Infinitives and Infinitive Phrases
What is an infinitive?
An infinitive is a verbal*that can function as a noun, adjective or adverb. It is often preceded by the word” to”. It can be formed by adding “to” to the verb.
[*In grammar, a verbal is a word derived from a verb that functions in a sentence as a noun or modifier rather than as a verb. Verbal includes infinitives, gerunds (also known as -ing forms), and participles]
Examples of infinitives:
- To sing
- To obey
- to play
Though the word “to “is frequently used with the infinitive, sometimes it is not an essential part or sign of it. Thus after certain verbs (bid, let, make, need, see, hear etc.) “to” is not used. See the examples given below:
I bade him go.
I made him run.
We heard him cry.
She saw him do it.
In the above sentences, go, run, cry, and do are infinitives, but “to” has not been used before these.
The infinitive without “to” is used after the verbs shall, will; do, did; should, might; can, could; and must.
The infinitive without “to “is used after the phrases had better, had rather, would rather, sooner than, and rather than. See the examples given below:
You had better ask permission.
I would rather die than suffer so.
I had rather play than work.
In the above sentences, ask, die, suffer, play, and work are infinitives, but “to” has not been used before these.
In certain elliptical expressions* also, “to” is not used.
They did nothing but dance and sing.
*Elliptical expression is a group of words in which some understood words are omitted. Some writers often use Elliptical expressions.
Functions of infinitives: An infinitive, with or without adjuncts,*can function as,
- Adverb or
- Any other adjunct, qualifying a sentence
* In grammar, an adjunct is a word, a clause, or phrase that qualifies another word or sentence and is not itself a main structural element in the sentence. An adjunct can be removed from the sentence without making the sentence grammatically wrong.
Types of Infinitives:
On the basis of the function, infinitives can be divided two categories.
A) Simple infinitive
B) Qualifying infinitive or gerundial infinitive.
When an infinitive is used like a noun, it is called as simple infinitive.
The Infinitive, with or without adjuncts, may be used as a noun.
1. As subject of a sentence; as,
- To visit Tajmahal is my dream.
- To err is human.
- To sleep late is not a good habit.
2. As the object of a transitive verb; as,
- I did not want to go there.
- Dick wanted to play cards.
- Uma wished to get a diamond ring.
3. As the complement of a verb; as,
- Sally’s greatest pleasure is to sing.
- Robinson’s one hobby is to play cards.
4. As the object of a preposition; as,
- The boy has no choice but to obey.
- The singer is about to sing.
5. As an objective complement; as,
- I saw him go.
- She made him run.
In all the above examples infinitives are functioning as nouns. Such infinitives are called Simple infinitives
Qualifying infinitive or gerundial infinitive:
An Infinitive, may also be used as an adverb (i.e., to qualify a verb or an adjective), or to qualify a noun (i.e. as adjective) and to qualify a sentence.
1. To qualify a verb, (i.e., in the capacity of an adverb, usually to express a purpose); as,
- We eat to live.(Purpose)
- I went to buy vegetables. (Purpose)
- We go to school to study. (Purpose)
2. To qualify an adjective; as, (i.e., used as adverb)
- Apples are good to eat.
- These students are anxious to learn.
- Honey is sweet to taste.
In the above sentences, the infinitives (given in bold letters) qualify the adjectives preceding them. That is, they are doing the work of an adverb.
3. To qualify a noun; as, (ie.Infinitive functions as adjective)
- This is not the time to discuss.
- I have a reason to scold him.
- You have cause to repent.
In the above sentences, the infinitives (given in bold letters) qualify the nouns preceding them.
4. To qualify a sentence; as,
To tell the truth, I did not want to come.
John was confused, so to speak.
In the above sentences, the infinitives (given in bold letters) qualify the sentence. They have been used absolutely*.
* Absolute in grammar means: “Standing apart from a normal or usual syntactical relation with other words or sentence elements”. Absolute phrase is a phrase that modifies the rest of the sentence without having usual syntactical relation with other words of the sentence. It is almost a complete sentence, but for the fact it does not have a finite verb. It can be removed from the sentence without making the sentence grammatically incorrect. Absolute phrase will be explained in detail in a separate post.
Active and passive forms of infinitives
The infinitive may be active or passive.
Active: When active, an infinitive may have a present and a perfect form. Or it may have present continuous or perfect continuous forms. That is, it may represent progressive or continuous action.
Present form: to love.
Perfect form: to have loved.
Present continuous: to be loving.
Perfect continuous: to have been loving.
Passive: When passive, an infinitive may have a present and a perfect form.
Present: to be loved.
Perfect: to have been loved.
Split Infinitive: Good writers avoid what is called the error of split infinitive. That is, they do not separate an infinitive from its characteristic sign “to” by intrusion of some modifying word, usually an adverb. In fact there is no rule in grammar not to split an infinitive. In usual cases a sentence is awkward if we split the infinitive. So it is better to avoid it. For instance,
Consider the infinitives “to walk” and “to eat”.
- He has to walk quickly. (Not, He has to quickly walk)
- I have to eat slowly. (Not, I have to slowly eat. )
Note: ‘Split Infinitive’ is of advantage when the adverb needs emphasis or will not suit anywhere in the sentence. For example,
1. We decided to quickly eat and go.
Here the adverb, quickly, requires emphasis, and so the infinitive has been split.
2. I decided to gradually stop my smoking.
In the above sentence the adverb, “gradually” require emphasis. Putting it anywhere else, in order not to split the infinitive, will change the meaning of the sentence or may create confusion.
B. Infinitive Phrases.
In a former post, “Different types of Phrases”, I had mentioned about infinitive phrases. Here in this post I shall explain about it in more detail.
What is an infinitive phrase?
Well, as any other phrase, an infinitive phrase is also a group of words that are grouped together and does not contain a finite verb. What is special about an infinitive phrase? An infinitive phrase starts with an infinitive and may include other modifiers and objects.
Given below are some examples of infinitive phrases (Given in bold letters):
- Mother helped the girl to complete her home work.
- The engineer came to inspect the work.
- I shall show you where to park your car.
- My teacher asked me to do the home work myself.
Uses of infinitive phrases:
As the main component of an infinitive phrase is an infinitive, like an infinitive, an infinitive phrase too can function as,
Infinitive phrases used as nouns:
It should be recalled that the subject of a sentence and object of a transitive verb, etc, are nouns or pronouns. When an Infinitive phrase is used as a subject or object, it is actually doing the work of a noun. Given below are some examples of the infinitive phrases functioning as subjects or objects, that is, acting as nouns.
- To drink warm water in the morning is good for health.(Subject)
- To work in the sun for hours is very tiring. (Subject)
- I wanted to go to my friend’s house today. (Object of the verb, wanted)
- He likes to take bath in the river. (Object of the verb, likes)
- Uma wanted to buy a diamond ring. (Object of the verb, wanted)
Infinitive phrases used as adverbs:
We know that an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, and another adverb. Infinitive phrases also can modify a verb and an adjective. Given below are some examples of the infinitive phrases functioning as adverbs.
- I went to buy some fruits. (Here the infinitive phrase, to buy some fruits, is qualifying the verb”, went”, expressing purpose of the verb.)
- John went to attend a meeting.(Purpose)
- He is too ill to do any work. (Here the infinitive phrase, to do any work is modifying the adjective,” ill”. modifying an adjective is usually the work of an adverb. So here too our infinitive phrase is acting as an adverb.)
Infinitive phrases used as adjectives:
We know that an adjective is a word which qualifies a noun. An Infinitive phrases also can qualify a noun. That is, an Infinitive phrases can be used as an adjective too. Given below are some examples of the infinitive phrases functioning as adjectives.
- He is a man to be admired for his hard work. (Here the infinitive phrase, to be admired for his hard work, is qualifying the noun “man”. Therefore it is doing the work of an adjective.
- These are the books to be kept as treasures (Qualifies the noun, books.)
- This is not the time to play foot-ball. (Qualifies the noun, football.)
Now I hope you have mastered infinitives and infinitive phrases. Work sheets to test your knowledge will be posted afterwards.