Grammar: Infinitive

Posted December 14, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

The infinitive can be both easy and touchy to identify. You’d think it would be very simple what with to + infinitive, but sometimes that to is a preposition instead.

Besides the to version, there is also the infinitive + -ing version, which can be tricky to differentiate from the gerund or participle -ings.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone on an area of grammar with which you struggle or on which you can contribute more understanding.

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Infinitive
Credit to: English Club
Definition: Verbal in its to form. To call, to eat, to drive, to play, to anything…

NOTE: A present participle also uses a verb + -ing ending BUT is used as an adjective while the gerund uses a verb + -ing as a noun.

POST CONTENTS:

Differences Between Participles, Gerunds, and Infinitives
Infinitive Marker

Use the To + Infinitive

Infinitive vs Gerund vs Participle:
The main problem is that participles and gerunds look alike, especially in their -ing form. It’s all the fault of those 18th century grammarians who finally settled down to make sense of the English language. You can see how much success they had, lol. Seriously, though they did do a great job with what they had at the time.

Latin was the classic language at the time, and this is where those linguists started. Gerunds and participles were treated differently in Latin, which is why they’re thought of as different now. Today’s grammarians are beginning to refer to them as gerund-participles. It’ll take awhile for this concept to catch on, so it’s important that writers today know what the current differences are. I know…it’s a pain.

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The difference is that:
Verb What It Does Examples
Gerund Functions as a noun

Always has an -ing ending

Hiking is a favorite sport in Colorado.

After running into Helen, George knew it meant a three-hour lunch.

Infinitive Base form of a verb, to ___, that functions as an adjective, adverb, or noun She had a gift to give me.

She wanted to buy the hat.

Jamie likes to hike.

Participle

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Functions as an adjective

Depending on tense, it may have an -ing or -ed [+] ending

He had hiked to Pike’s Peak.

Running into Helen meant a three-hour lunch.

Jamie’s snoring was enough to keep Marge awake all night.

Infinitive Marker
Definition: To is the word which can “mark” a verb as an infinitive.

CAUTION: To can also mark a preposition.

Rule: When to is followed by the verb in its base or simple present form, then it’s an infinitive marker. If to is followed by the verb as a gerund or participle, then it’s a preposition.

To as Infinitive Marker To as Preposition
I am going to hang this lamp. I’m looking forward to hanging this lamp at last.
I want to swing from this tree. I went from dancing to swinging from this tree.
Exceptions: The construction surrounding used to can be confusing. Barbara at Pearson Longman suggested a way to determine when an infinitive OR a preposition follows used to.
I used to DO something I am used to something
When I was a student, I used to cook my own food. Now I am used to cooking for a big family.
I used to play outside from first light to darkest night. I am used to playing outside.
I used to read for hours. I am used to reading for hours.
I used to hate doing dishes. I am used to having to do the dishes.
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the past tense verb
  2. Green indicates the infinitive
  3. Orange indicates the phrasal verb ending with a preposition
  4. Blue indicates the verbal noun
Use the To + Infinitive
After Adjectives Rule: Always use an infinitive after adjectives.

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Partial List of Adjectives
disappointed
glad
happy
relieved
sad
surprised
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the adjective
  2. Green indicates the infinitive

I was happy to help them.

She will be delighted to see you.

too + adjective… Rule: …is followed by the to + infinitive.

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Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the adjective
  2. Green indicates the infinitive

The water was too cold to swim in.

My tea is too hot to drink.

adjective + enough Rule: …is followed by the to + infinitive.

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Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the adjective + enough
  2. Green indicates the infinitive

He was strong enough to lift it.

She is rich enough to buy two.

After Certain Verbs Rule: Always use a to + infinitive after certain verbs.

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Partial List of After Verbs
agree
allow
can / can’t afford
choose
decide
encourage
expect
forget
help
hope
learn
manage
mean
need
offer
pretend
promise
refuse
teach
train
want
would like
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the after verb
  2. Green indicates the infinitive

I forgot to close the window.

Mary needs to leave early.

Why are they encouraged to learn Spanish?

We can’t afford to take a long holiday.

Use the Infinitive + -ing
After Certain Verbs Rule: Always use an infinitive -ing after certain verbs.

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Partial List of Certain Verbs
avoid
dislike
enjoy
finish
give up
mind
not mind
practice
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the “certain” verb
  2. Green indicates the infinitive

I dislike getting up early.

Would you mind opening the window?

After a Preposition Rule: Always use an infinitive -ing after a preposition.

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Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the preposition
  2. Green indicates the infinitive + -ing

I look forward to meeting you.

They left without saying goodbye.

When Subject of a Clause Rule: Always use an infinitive -ing when it is the subject of a clause.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the subject infinitive + -ing

Swimming is good exercise.

Doctors say that smoking is bad for you.

Use Either To or -ing Rule: Occurs when a “verb can be followed by the -ing form (gerund) or the to form (infinitive) without a big change in meaning” (English Club).

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Partial List of “Certain” Ambivalent Verbs
begin
continue
hate
intend
like
love
prefer
propose
start
Examples:
It began to sleet.

I prefer to paint landscapes.

It began sleeting.

I prefer painting landscapes.

Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the “certain” verb
  2. Green indicates the to + infinitive
  3. Pale green indicates the infinitive + -ing
Infinitive Phrase Rule: Consists of an infinitive — to + verb + any modifiers or complements associated with it.

Infinitive phrases may act as adjectives, adverbs, and nouns.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the infinitive phrase

Her move to California wasn’t turning out as she thought.

She wanted to wear the red dress.

His plan to play bingo and get cozy with Martha was doomed.

NEVER Split an Infinitive Definition: Splitting an infinitive simply means that another word has been inserted between the to and the infinitive (the verb).

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To boldly go where no man has gone before” is the most frequently cited example of a split infinitive.

Rule: For generations, we’ve been told to “never split an infinitive”, primarily because of those Latin construction rules 18th century grammarians used as the basis to bring order to the English language. As we all know, rules are made to be broken, and this is definitely one of them. The one rule you may never break is making it hard for your reader to understand what you’re saying.

If you’re in doubt, keep the to and the infinitive together.

Exception may occur in informal writing when a single adverb splits the infinitive as in the example below and the Star Trek quote on the right (OWL).

YES NO
Jerry asked us to plan more carefully and specifically than in the past for a hostile takeover. Jerry asked us to more carefully and specifically than in the past plan for a hostile takeover.
Formal Informal
I needed to gather my personal possessions quickly. I needed to quickly gather my personal possessions.
We had to more than triple the number of screws we used.

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