Infinitives in English Grammar

Parts Of Speech


photo credit: ical tefl (license)

The Infinitive is the base form of the verb‏‎:

be, have, walk…

Often the infinitive is introduced by the particle, to:

to be, to have, to walk…

Note that when the infinitive is on its own it’s sometimes known as the Bare Infinitive; when it’s with to then it’s sometimes known as the Full Infinitive.

Full Infinitive Usage/Infinitive Clauses

We use the full infinitive (the infinitive with to) as a noun, adjective‏‎ or adverb‏‎ phrase. They are sometimes known as Infinitive Clauses.

To be or not to be.

To put it bluntly: you’re wrong!

To pay for the mortgage, he took a second job.

I want to go to Japan.

A common question and answer expressing purpose is like this:

Statement: I’m packing my bag.

Question: Why now?

Answer: To save time later.

Bare Infinitive Usage

We use the bare infinitive in a number of different ways.

1) After most modal‏‎ and auxiliary verbs:

{modal/auxiliary} + {infinitive}

We should + go now.

They must + arrive soon.

Note that the main exception here is the modal ought to.

2) With some verbs of perception‏‎:

{verb of perception} + {object} + {infinitive}

I watched it explode.

I heard them shout.

Double Infinitive

Sometimes we need to use more than one infinitive in a row:

A picture can be useful to help to explain what happened.

Although correct grammatically, this can sometimes sound a little awkward and we can say instead:

A picture can be useful to help and explain what happened.

Alternatively, we can say:

A picture can be useful to help explain what happened.

These are all correct.

Related Articles

6 Tips to Make your ESL Classes More Effective

Teaching is undeniably a challenging job, in fact many consider it one of the most difficult careers you could choose. Nevertheless, being a teacher is an enriching experience. Through quality education and effective teaching methodologies,...

read more

ICAL TEFL Resources

The ICAL TEFL site has thousands of pages of free TEFL resources for teachers and students. These include: The TEFL ICAL Grammar Guide. Country Guides for teaching around the world. How to find TEFL jobs. How to teach English. TEFL Lesson Plans....

read more