Grammar Aid 3: What is an infinitive?

The grammar-monster website gives the following explanation and examples:

What Is the Infinitive Form of a Verb? (with examples)

The infinitive form of a verb is the verb in its basic form. It is the version of the verb which will appear in the dictionary.

An infinitive is a non-finite verb. In other words, it cannot be the main verb in a sentence.

An infinitive can be used as a noun, an adjective or an adverb.

How is the infinitive used?

The infinitive form of a verb is usually preceded by to (e.g., to run, to dance, to think). The infinitive form is not always preceded by to. Look at these examples:

      • I need to run every day.

    The infinitive form with the word

to

    • is called the

full infinitive

    • or

to-infinitive

      • I must run every day.

    After certain verbs, the

to

      • is dropped (more on this below)
      • I run every day.

    (This is not in the infinitive form. This is a finite verb

    , i.e., a verb functioning as the main verb.)

Note: The word to is not a preposition. It is often called the sign of the infinitive.

 

Examples of Infinitives as Nouns

Here are some examples of infinitive verbs as nouns:

      • To dance was her passion.

    The infinitive is the subject of

was

Compare it to this:

      • Dancing was her passion.

    This proves that the infinitive

to dance

    is being used a noun.

Here is another example:

      • He likes to hunt.

    (The infinitive is the direct object of

likes

Compare it to this:

      • He likes hunting.

    This proves that the infinitive

to hunt

    is being used a noun.

Examples of Infinitives as Adjectives

An adjective modifies a noun to tell us something about the noun (e.g., its colour, type, or number). You have to bear this in mind when working out how infinitives function as adjectives. Here are some examples of infinitive verbs as adjectives:

      • Give him an ornament to polish.

    (The infinitive modifies

ornament

    . This means it is functioning as an adjective.

Compare it to this:

      • Give him an ornament that he can polish.

    The clause

that he must polish

    • is an

adjective clause

    • . This proves that the infinitive

to polish

    is being used an adjective.

Here is another example:

      • I need a volunteer to take the minutes.

    The infinitive modifies

volunteer

    . This means it is functioning as an adjective.

Compare it to this:

      • I need a volunteer who is prepared to take the minutes.

    The clause

who is prepared to take the minutes

    • is an adjective clause. Therefore, the infinitive

to take

    • is being used an adjective. Note how

to take

    • is grouped with

the minutes

This is an

infinitive phrase

 

Note: An infinitive that acts as an adjective usually appears immediately after the noun it is modifying.

Examples of Infinitives as Adverbs

An adverb usually modifies a verb to tell us when, where, how, in what manner, or to what extent an action is performed. You have to bear this in mind when working out how infinitives function as adverbs. Here are some examples of infinitive verbs as adverbs:

      • The officer returned to help.

    (The infinitive modifies the verb

returned

    This means it is functioning as an adverb.

Compare it to this:

      • The officer returned so he could help.

    The clause

so he could help

    • is an

adverbial clause

    • .This proves that the infinitive

to help

    is being used an adverb.

Here is another example:

      • He will complete the mission to set an example.

    (The infinitive modifies the verb

will complete

    . This means it is functioning as an adverb.)

Compare it to this:

      • He will complete the mission so he can set an example.

    (The clause

so he can set an example

    • is an adverbial clause. Therefore, the infinitive

to set an example

    • is being used an adverb. Note how

to set

    • is grouped with

an example

    • .This is an

infinitive phrase

Bare Infinitives (When Not Preceded by To)

Most infinitives are preceded by to, but after certain verbs, the to is dropped. The most obvious example is when an infinitive follows can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, or would (i.e., a modal verb). For example:

More examples (bare infinitives shaded):

      • He should go home.

    This is called a

bare infinitive

  • They might finish by Wednesday.

Bare infinitives also follow other verbs. The main ones are feel, hear, help, let, make, see, and watch. This time, there is a direct object involved. For example:

More examples (bare infinitives shaded):

      • Mark helped his friend finish.

    The “special” verb is

helped

    • The direct object is

his friend

      • I watched them bake the bread.

    The “special” verb is

watched

    • .The direct object is

them

Use the Infinitive Form As a Name for a Verb

When discussing grammar, the infinitive form is used as the name for a verb. For example:

  • The verb to play has the participles playing and played.
  • In the present tense, the verb to be has the forms am, is, and, are.

Page can be found at: http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/infinitive_form.htm

 

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