Learn English – “It is better to X than to Y” – the structure of a difficult comparative sentence

comparativesconjunction-reductiongrammarinfinitives

Take the following sentence:

It is better to underestimate your abilities and overestimate your risks than to go in a direction that actually involves more uncertainty than you can justify.

For the above sentence, I assume "to go in a direction" is something like a noun phrase?

Can someone explain a little bit what "to go in a direction" is in this sentence?

Best Answer

Overall the structure is (using NP to mean noun phrase): NP is better than NP.

Both NPs are nominalized sentences, formed by combining the for-to complementizer with a S (using S to mean sentence).

The first S is: You underestimate your abilities and overestimate your risks.
The second S is: You go in a direction that actually involves more uncertainty than you can justify.

The for-to complementizer combines with the S it goes with by combining "for" with the subject and "to" with a non-finite version of the verb phrase of the sentence. "Non-finite" means that tense is not expressed. I don't know what the tenses of these two sentences are, so I simply omitted them, but perhaps you could assume an understood "would" auxiliary in each sentence ("would" is tensed).

So after combining the complementizers with the Ss, we get:
for you to underestimate your abilities and overestimate your risks
for you to go in a direction that actually involves more uncertainty than you can justify

The "for you" in both sentences is omitted -- that is, left understood. The subject of the main sentence is extraposed -- that is, it is replaced by "it" in the original subject position and the former subject is appended to the verb phrase "is better".