Two Kinds of Infinitives in English Language

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    Sep 29, 2012
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The to-infinitive is a verbal (or a non-finite verb) consisting of the word to  plus a verb. Verbal is not limited by subject and it cannot be main verb.   It is not completely modulated by categories and it is never used as the predicate in a sentence. English language has three kinds of verbals: infinitives, participles and gerund. Many language experts define an infinitive as “the simple form of a verb.” (Crawley, 2005:185). They also indicate that this basic form of a verb in “English can be used with or without to depending on what comes before it.” (Steel, 2004:353).     

The to- infinitive often serves an object of a verb. There are a lot of verbs in English which are strongly connected with the to-infinitive.

The to-infinitive is used to express purpose:

  1. She had deserted my grandfather and her son during the height of the Depression and headed for Atlanta to find work. (Conroy, 2001: 113)
  2. She motioned for me to stay for a moment and walked to her desk to use the telephone. (Conroy, 2001:163)
  3. Placing the letter in the mailbox on Rosedale Road, she raised the red metal flag to alert the postman as we left for school on Friday morning. (Conroy, 2001 : 131)
  4. When my first child, Jennifer, was born, Savannah flew down from New York to help Sallie when she came home from the hospital.(Conroy; 2001:288)
  5. I prayed for him to save my mother. (Conroy, 2001: 136)

The to- infinitive is also used as the compliment of  be:

  1. You must have heard that one of the functions of the League is to distribute turkeys at Thanksgiving to less fortunate families in the country, Lila. (Conroy, 2001: 275)
  2. Part of his training was to master the hard curriculum of endearing himself to coaches and winning their respect with his unquenchable enthusiasm. (Conroy, 2001: 280)
  3. She`s a leading character in this autopsy of my family and you`ll learn that her only job on earth is to spread insanity. (Conroy, 2001: 144)  
  4. The best you can hope for is to make the sucker float.(Conroy, 2001: 160)
  5. Our first drill each morning was to have Bernard practice smiling at me. (Conroy, 2001: 282)

Verb+compulsory noun/pronoun+to-infinitive:

  1. In the first month, it took us ten minutes to empty a trap of crabs and to bait it again for the next tide. (Conroy, 2001: 274)
  2. It took me several moments to reply and then I said, “Yes.” (Conroy; 2001: 289)
  3. It`s okay for people to think all Wingos are trashy, but it`s not such a good thing to air those opinions. (Conroy; 2001: 231)
  4. My mother decided it was not safe for a woman to live alone with three small children on Melrose Island. (Conroy, 2001: 113)
  5. It took five minutes for my father to drive his pickup truck from our house to the wooden bridge. (Conroy; 2001: 3)

The to-infinitive as the object of a verb:

  1. “I don`t want to go to medical school,” said Lucy. (Conroy, 2001:14)
  2. I won`t have to ask your permission.  (Conroy; 2001: 14)
  3. “She`s trying to be a good mother again, in her own way,” Sallie said studying Chandler`s hair. (Conroy; 2001: 16)
  4. You just need to burn the furniture and spray with disinfectant when she leaves.  (Conroy; 2001: 16)
  5. We stayed with them all that day, tried to move them back to the water by pulling their great fins, until exhaustion and silence crept in with the dark. (Conroy; 2001: 7)

The to-infinitive is also used as an object complement:

  1. For hours we walked from back to back of the dying mammals, speaking out to them in the cries of children, urging them to try to return to the sea. (Conroy; 2001: 7)
  2. We whispered to them, cleared sand from their blowholes, splashed them with seawater, and exhorted them to survive for our sake. (Conroy; 2001: 7)
  3. I grew up in South Carolina, a white southern male, well trained and gifted in my hatred of blacks when the civil rights movements caught me outside and undefended along the barricades and proved me to be both wicked and wrong. (Conroy; 2001: 9)
  4. I would far prefer her to be cynical. (Conroy; 2001: 59)
  5. I wanted her to finish the job the next time. (Conroy: 2001: 59/60)

The to-infinitive is also used to modify the words “enough” and “too” and according to language exerts, “too comes before and enough comes after the adjective.” (Stannard, 1971:184).  

The to-infinitive used to modify the words “enough” and “too”:

  1. She was always far too pretty to be my mother and there was a time in my life when I was mistaken for her husband. (Conroy; 2001: 19)
  2. It was hard enough to tell you, and I certainly didn`t want to add to your troubles.  (Conroy; 2001: 31)
  3. The ashtrays were heavy enough to kill squirrels. (Conroy; 2001: 55)
  4. Our maleness irradiated unconsciously through Savannah`s world and troubled us greatly, because at that time we were too thick and too innocent to understand the nature of our sister`s problem with the world of men. (Conroy; 2001: 37)
  5. I thought it might prove helpful once she`s well enough to return to therapy. (Conroy; 2001: 70)

The to-infinitive can be used after question words as well:

  1. They knew how to walk in a great city and I did not. (Conroy;2001: 71            )
  2. Afraid to approach her, I stood by the door, unsure of what to do next. (Conroy; 2001:180)
  3. Each night the priest would visit him, change my father`s bandages, teach him how to speak German, and bring him news of the war. (Conroy; 2001:90)
  4. I had figured out how to live a perfectly meaningless life, but one that could imperceptibly and inevitably destroy the lives of those around me. (Conroy; 2001: 103)
  5. I do not know how to make overtures of concern in New York. (Conroy; 2001: 107)

The Bare Infinitive

The infinitive without “to” is called bare infinitive. It is a non-finite verb too. We usually use the bare infinitive after modal verbs. In fact, all the modal verbs (except ought are followed by a bare infinitive.

The bare infinitive after modal verbs:

1, But, at first, I could not hear her and I could tell she was aware of her audience, intimidated by it. (Conroy; 2001: 39)

2. The answer should spring to your lips. (Conroy; 2001: 13)

3.  My husband can get you a job. (Conroy; 2001: 22)

4. First, I must hear your confession.(Conroy;2001:93)

5. I can`t stop. (Conroy; 2001: 117)

When we intend to make suggestions for actions that include speaker, we often use the imperative form let`s.

The bare infinitive after “ let`s,” when making suggestions:

  1. Now, let`s try it again. (Conroy; 2001: 13)
  2. Let`s make it to the trees. Then they got to find us in the dark. (Conroy; 2001: 553)
  3. Let`s take my experience. (Conroy; 2001: 463)
  4. Let`s talk about her children`s story,” she suggested. (Conroy;  2001: 466)
  5. But let`s face it. (Conroy; 2001: 479)

The primary meaning of let is allow. In this sense let is a full verb, which is followed by a noun or pronoun object before a bare infinitive. Let cannot be used in the passive and some authors indicate that “allowed to is used instead.” (Soars, 2003: 158).  

The bare infinitive after” let,”as a full verb:

  1. Let me order some wine and then I`d like to talk a little bit about Savannah. (Conroy; 2001: 460)
  2. Let us give you a toast. (Conroy; 2001:483)
  3. I won`t let anything hurt you. (Conroy; 2001:47)
  4. And we let the soft tides carry us home .(Conroy; 2001: 484)
  5. We let her float by herself but she seemed unbalanced and unsure of herself. (Conroy; 2001: 378)

The verb make in the sense of compel or cause to can be followed by a bare infinitive.

The bare infinitive after make (active)+noun/pronoun object:

  1. It was Bo who made me want to become a fraternity man and I followed him from frat house to frat house during Rush Week that year, watching him disappear from my side as soon as we entered the smoky, noisy rooms filled with well-dressed Greeks who all seemed like the friendliest people I had ever met. (Conroy; 2001: 534)
  2. It was the year my mother made us learn the prayer to our guardian angels. (Conroy; 2001: 187)
  3. Nothing personal, but it`s you who`s making me answer the phone. (Conroy; 2001:1)
  4. It was she who made me take notice of the perfect coinage of sand dollars, the shapes of flounders inlaid in sand like the silhouettes of ladies in cameos, the foundered wreck near the Colleton Bridge that pulsed with the commerce of otters. (Conroy; 2001:4)
  5. It made me think of all the women in my life- my mother, sister, wife, and daughters – and how I could make a strong case that I had betrayed each of them by a strategic collapse of my own love when they needed it the most. (Conroy; 2001:195)  

The bare (or zero) infinitive is often used after verbs of perception (see, watch, hear, feel, listen to, look at, notice, observe, smell) – verb+ noun/pronoun object + bare infinitive.

The bare infinitive after verbs of perception:

  1. When I saw you and your team win the first game, all the magic of sport came to me silver voiced, like whistles. (Conroy; 2001:76) –   
  2. Again, I watched her mouth relax as she said, “Neither have I Tom.” (Conroy; 2001: 147)
  3. I heard Savannah say again: “You are the lucky one, Rose Aster.”(Conroy; 2001: 176)
  4. Anytime I hear someone like you say they hate New York, I automatically think they`re anti-Semitic. (Conroy; 2001: 197)
  5. Isabel Newborn had not seen them walk back to the dressing room. (Conroy; 2001: 224)

Why not followed by a bare infinitive is used to ask questions or make suggestions.

The bare infinitive uses after Why/ Why not:

  1. Mom, why don`t you get a job bottling guilt? (Conroy; 2001: 24)
  2. Why don`t you ask Savannah? (Conroy; 2001: 58)
  3. Why didn`t your brother come to apologize too? (Conroy;2001: 237)
  4. Why don`t you just go ahead and admit that your family is shit? (Conroy; 2001: 238)
  5. Why don`t they leave the blood in there? (Conroy: 2001: 210)

The bare infinitive is used for requests or command sentences, at the beginning of the sentences.

The bare infinitive at the beginning of the sentence:

  1. Wait here. (Conroy; 2001: 68)  2. See you tonight. (Conroy; 2001: 65)
  1. Bring your sister, boys. (Conroy; 2001 : 175)  4. Speak for yourself. (Conroy; 2001: 177)   5.. Tell her I`m dead. (Conroy; 2001: 11)


  1. Crawley, Angela. (2005). Oxford Elementary Learner`s Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Soars, Liz and John. (2003). New Headway Intermediate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Steel, Miranda. (2004). Oxford Wordpower Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CORPUS-Conroy,Pat.(2001). The Prince of Tides. New York: Bantam Books.

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