Unraveling the Infinitive Form of Verbs: Definitions and Examples

Marcus Froland

Imagine trying to build a house without knowing how to use a hammer, saw, or nails. Pretty tough, right? That’s what talking about verbs in English can feel like if you’re not familiar with the infinitive form. It’s one of those building blocks that, once you get it, everything else starts to click into place. But without it, well, things just aren’t as sturdy.

This isn’t just about memorizing a list of words or drilling grammar rules into your head. It’s about seeing how the pieces fit together to express what we want to say. The infinitive form is a key player, but why? And how do we use it properly? By the end of this article, not only will these questions be answered, but you’ll also discover how this simple form can open up new ways of expressing yourself in English.

The infinitive form of a verb is its basic form. It often starts with “to” such as “to run,” “to eat,” or “to be.” In English, this form is used after certain verbs, adjectives, and nouns. It can show purpose, intention, or function. For example, in the sentence “I want to eat,” “to eat” is the infinitive showing what the subject wants to do. Infinitives are also used without “to” in some cases, especially after modal verbs like can or should. For instance, saying “I must leave” uses the infinitive form “leave” without “to.” Understanding infinitives helps with mastering grammar rules and improving your English.

Exploring the Basics: What Is an Infinitive Verb?

Understanding the infinitive form of a verb provides you with more flexibility and clarity in your writing and speech. The infinitive verb is essentially the base form of a verb, as it appears in the dictionary. It is most commonly preceded by the word “to” and serves different grammatical functions, such as acting as a noun, adjective, or adverb.

However, you should bear in mind that the infinitive form is a non-finite verb, meaning it cannot serve as the main verb in a sentence. Let’s explore further through an example:

“Dancing was her passion.”

In this sentence, “dancing” acts as a noun. An equivalent sentence using the infinitive form would be:

“To dance was her passion.”

In both sentences, the subject’s passion for dancing is highlighted. Yet, the infinitive “to dance” illustrates the subject’s adoration for the act of dancing as a whole.

To illustrate the different roles of infinitive forms, consider these examples:

  1. As a noun: “To win is the ultimate goal.”
  2. As an adjective: “The movie to watch is the latest blockbuster.”
  3. As an adverb: “The athlete trains daily to improve.”

In each of these sentences, the infinitive verb assumes a distinct grammatical function, showcasing its versatility and usefulness in language.

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Grasping the basics of infinitive verbs is the first step towards a deeper comprehension of English grammar. In the subsequent sections, we’ll examine inflexible forms’ various applications and roles, providing you with a solid foundation for mastering the intricacies of English language usage.

The Versatility of Infinitives: Nouns, Adjectives, and Adverbs

Infinitives are highly versatile when used in various grammatical functions, such as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. By understanding and employing infinitives in these roles, you can create more expressive and powerful sentences. Let’s explore each role in greater detail.

Infinitives as Nouns: More Than Meets the Eye

Infinitives have the ability to encapsulate an entire action as a noun, effectively demonstrating its core essence. In this role, they stand alone in reference to the action or concept itself. For instance, the sentence “To dance was her passion,” showcases the subject’s love for the concept of dancing, not a specific instance. Consider the following examples:

To win is not everything.
To eat ice cream is a delight.

As seen in these examples, infinitives represent the core idea of the action, allowing you to convey an entire concept or activity through a single word.

Infinitives as Adjectives: Descriptive Powerhouses

When applied as adjectives, infinitives follow the noun they modify to deliver more detailed information, usually clarifying purpose or potential action. By using infinitives in this role, you can create more vivid and informative descriptions. Consider the following sentence:

Give him an ornament to polish.

In this example, “to polish” is the infinitive functioning as an adjective that specifies the intended action for the noun “ornament.”

Infinitives as Adverbs: Enhancing Verbal Actions

Lastly, infinitives serve as adverbs that modify verbs, typically indicating the purpose of the action. By using infinitives in this manner, sentences become clearer and more engaging. Take, for example, the following sentence:

The officer returned to help.

In this case, the infinitive “to help” is an adverb, providing context as to why the action (returned) was performed. Other examples of infinitives as adverbs include:

  • They drove to the store to buy groceries.
  • You study to learn new things.
  • She went to the beach to relax.

By understanding and implementing infinitives as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, you can enhance your writing and improve the clarity and expressiveness of your sentences.

From “To Do” to “Do”: Understanding Full and Bare Infinitives

In the realm of English grammar, one important distinction you’ll come across is the difference between full and bare infinitives. Full infinitives are preceded by the word “to”, while bare infinitives omit this marker. Each form plays a specific role in crafting comprehensible and engaging sentences. Let’s take a closer look at how these infinitives work and the rules governing their respective uses.

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Full infinitives are versatile verb forms that serve a variety of grammatical functions. They can act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs in sentences, providing context and expressing intentions or purposes. For example, consider the following sentences:

  • To eat healthy is one of her resolutions this year.
  • She has an appointment to meet her doctor today.
  • They went to the store to buy groceries.

In contrast, bare infinitives often appear after certain types of verbs, including modal verbs, perception verbs, and others like “let” and “make.” Here are some instances of bare infinitives in action:

  1. She can swim two miles without stopping.
  2. I heard her sing the national anthem.
  3. Her boss made her work late last night.
Full Infinitives Bare Infinitives
Act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs Appear after modal verbs, perception verbs, and specific verbs like “let” and “make”
Provide context and express intentions or purposes Convey actions in sentences without emphasizing purposes
Examples: to eat, to swim, to meet Examples: eat, swim, meet

As you can see, the distinction between full and bare infinitives lies primarily in their usage within sentences. By understanding how these verb forms function, you’ll be better equipped to craft coherent and engaging statements. So, remember to consider the context and purpose of the action in your sentence when choosing between full and bare infinitives.

Venturing Beyond the Basics: Uncommon Uses of Infinitive Forms

Although you may frequently encounter infinitives in their basic “to” and base verb form, there are more uncommon types and variations you should be aware of as well. In this section, we’ll explore infinitive verbs in passive and continuous forms, as well as the divisive topic of split infinitives.

Infinitive Verbs in Passive and Continuous Forms

Infinitives adopt passive and continuous forms for various purposes within sentences. For example:

  • Passive infinitives, like “to be given,” denote that the subject is the recipient of an action. This construct offers a more flexible way of discussing the reception of actions or benefits. For example, “She hopes to be given a chance.”
  • Continuous infinitives, such as “to be doing,” convey ongoing action or states. These forms allow an expanded use of infinitives in different linguistic contexts. For instance, “She started to be working on a new project.”

Utilizing passive and continuous infinitives provides opportunities to expand the potential uses and versatility of infinitive forms in your writing.

Split Infinitives: To Boldly Split Where Grammarians Dispute

Split infinitives arise when an adverb or phrase interrupts the “to” portion and the actual base verb. This construct has stirred up significant debate amongst grammarians over the years. Some argue that it is not traditionally acceptable, while others advocate for split infinitives to enhance language clarity and emphasis. Consider the famous example from Star Trek: “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

To boldly split infinitives, or not to split? That is the question.

In this example, the adverb “boldly” splits the full infinitive “to go.” The adverb could be placed before or after the full infinitive phrase, but placing it between “to” and “go” adds emphasis and clarity that might not have been achieved otherwise.

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Split infinitives may not always be the ideal choice, but their use can be effective in certain contexts. It’s essential to play with language and utilize different grammatical constructs, such as split infinitives, to effectively express your ideas and engage readers in a unique and impactful way.

Practical Insights: Real-Life Applications of Infinitive Verbs

Infinitive verbs are essential in everyday communication and notable quotes, emphasizing the relevance and adaptability of this language element. By familiarizing yourself with infinitives, you can tap into the richness of language that these versatile verb structures provide.

One striking example can be seen in Benjamin Franklin’s words: “We are here among you not as conquerors with a mandate to govern, but as friends with an opportunity to serve and to see us happy.” In this instance, the infinitive “to see” acts as a noun, effectively conveying the speaker’s intended focus and impact. Another illustration comes from musician Jim Morrison: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Here, “to be” functions as an adjective, modifying the noun “yourself” and enriching the meaning.

Embracing the power of infinitives in both speech and writing will give you the creative freedom to clarify ideas, enhance expressions, and convey your message more effectively. By learning and practicing these grammatical forms, you are taking a significant step toward mastering the art of communication.

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