What Is an Infinitive Phrase? (with Examples)

Marcus Froland

Welcome to the exciting world of infinitive phrases in English grammar! As you dive into this topic, you’ll discover the various functions of infinitive phrases and encounter examples of infinitive phrases that will help you understand their practical use. But first, let’s define what an infinitive phrase is.

An infinitive phrase consists of an infinitive verb, often preceded by “to,” and any complements or modifiers associated with it. Infinitive verbs appear in their most basic form—like you’d find in a dictionary—and are not conjugated. These phrases can function as nouns, adverbs, or adjectives in a sentence, but never as the main verb. To give you a taste of their versatility, consider this example: “to play guitar,” “to dress quickly,” or “to see the new Marvel film.” In each case, modifiers and objects add clarity and specificity to the phrase.

Ready to learn more? Let’s dive deeper into the mechanics of infinitive phrases and explore how they can enrich your writing.

Understanding the Basics of Infinitive Phrases

Infinitives are a form of verbal that can operate as a noun, adverb, or adjective and take the form of the base verb, sometimes including the word “to.” An infinitive phrase expands upon this by adding complements or modifiers, often direct objects or adverbs. Understanding infinitive phrases and their verbal functions significantly impacts the versatility and nuance of your writing.

These phrases start with an infinitive verb and vary in purpose, providing nuanced meaning or additional information within sentences. Recognizing them involves identifying the infinitive structure, typically “to” plus a verb, and examining its role and accompanying words. To help you understand infinitive phrases more effectively, consider the following aspects:

  1. Identification of the infinitive verb
  2. Usage with complements and modifiers
  3. Functions as noun, adverb, or adjective
Infinitive Phrase Function Example in a Sentence
To read a book Noun (object) I decided to read a book on vacation.
To travel alone Adjective He found a guidebook to travel alone in Europe.
To get a better understanding Adverb She reviewed the report to get a better understanding of the situation.

With a clear grasp of these aspects, you can make better use of infinitive phrases in your writing. Keep practicing and familiarizing yourself with various examples and scenarios, and you will undoubtedly enhance your language skills and enrich your written content.

Identifying Infinitive Phrases in English Grammar

We will learn more about the intricacies of infinitive phrases in this section. Our goal is to fully grasp the variations between bare infinitives, modal and special verbs, split infinitives, and the ability to tell the difference between infinitive phrases and prepositional phrases. This knowledge will help strengthen your English grammar skills and improve your writing abilities.

Infinitives Without “To”: The Bare Infinitive

A bare infinitive is an infinitive that does not include “to” and is used after certain modal verbs such as “can,” “may,” “will,” “should,” and other special verbs such as “make,” “let,” “hear,” and “see.” These connecting verbs are directly followed by a direct object. Examples include phrases like “let their son stay home alone” and “watched the team win,” where the bare infinitive follows the pattern: special verb + direct object + infinitive phrase.

Split Infinitives: When It’s Okay to Divide

Split infinitives occur when adverbs or other words are placed between “to” and the verb within an infinitive phrase. Examples of split infinitives include “to quickly respond” and “to greatly reduce.” While classical grammar rules advise against split infinitives, they are increasingly accepted in modern English, especially for clarity or emphasis. Considering when to use split infinitives and appropriate adverb placement is essential, as these are usually avoided in more formal writing contexts.

It is always better to walk lightly over split infinitives than to insert the adverb in any other position where the arrangements of the words would be less euphonious or the meaning less clear. – H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

The Difference Between Infinitive and Prepositional Phrases

It is crucial to distinguish infinitive phrases from prepositional phrases, as they can be easily confused. Both types of phrases are introduced by ‘to,’ but the primary difference lies in the presence of a verb. An infinitive phrase will contain a verb after “to,” while a prepositional phrase will not. To clarify the difference between these two types of phrases, consider these examples:

  • Infinitive phrase: to eat dinner
  • Prepositional phrase: She went to the store

By mastering the distinction between prepositional phrases vs. infinitive phrases and broadening your understanding of identifying prepositional phrases, you will significantly enhance your grammar and writing skills.

The Versatility of Infinitive Phrases: Functions and Examples

Infinitive phrases are highly versatile and can perform several functions within a sentence. They have the ability to function as nouns (subjects, objects, or complements), adjectives, or adverbs, depending on their usage. Whether they provide a reason behind an action or describe nouns and pronouns, their adaptability makes them an essential part of English grammar.

Let’s examine some examples of how infinitive phrases can perform different roles:

  1. Nouns:

As subjects:

To travel the world is her dream.

As direct objects:

She decided to start a business.

As subject complements:

Her goal is to become a doctor.

  1. Adjectives:

Modifying nouns:

She searched for a book to read during the holidays.

Modifying pronouns:

She was the first person to finish the race.

  1. Adverbs:

Expressing purpose:

They visited the museum to learn about history.

Indicating result:

She practiced so much that she was able to master the piano.

Understanding these various functions of infinitive phrases along with relevant examples further illustrates their role in modifying verbs, nouns, and adjectives within sentences.

How Infinitive Phrases Enhance Your Writing

Infinitive phrases are a powerful tool that can improve writing by adding flexibility, sentence variety, and grammatical construction in your texts. Their multi-functional nature allows them to serve various purposes, ultimately enhancing the overall clarity and expressiveness of your content.

  1. Prevent repetitive patterns: By incorporating infinitive phrases, you can break free from monotonous sentence structures, keeping your readers engaged and interested.
  2. Add descriptive layers: When used as adjectives or adverbs, infinitive phrases provide additional detail and context, contributing to more vivid and expressive writing.
  3. Clarify meaning: Infinitive phrases can provide clarification to your sentences, making your statements more explicit and easier to understand.

Let’s take a closer look at some examples that illustrate the benefits of using infinitive phrases:

Without Infinitive Phrase With Infinitive Phrase
She decided to start a new job. She decided to start a new job to further her career.
He went to the store. He went to the store to buy some groceries.
The dog jumped on the couch. The dog jumped on the couch to take a nap.

As seen in the examples above, the addition of infinitive phrases not only lends variety to the sentence structure but also provides context and clarity to the reader. The versatility of infinitive phrases allows you to use them for various purposes and in different parts of the sentence, making them a valuable tool for improving your writing.

As you continue to practice and refine your writing skills, be mindful of the ways infinitive phrases can enhance your work. Always remember that using them effectively will provide your readers with a clearer understanding, richer descriptions, and an overall more enjoyable reading experience.

Common Misconceptions and Errors with Infinitives

Understanding infinitives can be challenging, particularly when encountering common misconceptions and errors. In this section, we will address two frequent points of confusion: gerunds and participles, and the usage guidelines for split infinitives.

Confusion with Gerunds and Participles

Both infinitives and gerunds are derived from verbs; however, there are notable differences between them. While infinitives use the base form of the verb, sometimes preceded by “to,” gerunds use the “-ing” form and act solely as nouns. Below is a table comparing infinitive and gerund usage:

Infinitive Gerund
to enjoy enjoying
to swim swimming
to learn learning

To differentiate between these two verbals within your writing, focus on the wording and function. If the verbal features a “to” followed by the base form of the verb, it is an infinitive; if it uses the “-ing” form without “to” and functions as a noun, it is a gerund.

When to Use and When to Avoid Split Infinitives

It is essential to grasp the guidelines surrounding split infinitives, as their usage varies according to the context. While acceptable in casual writing, split infinitives should be avoided within formal writing scenarios.

A split infinitive occurs when an adverb or other words are placed between “to” and the verb within an infinitive phrase, such as “to boldly go” or “to quickly complete.” To choose between using a split infinitive or an intact version, consider whether the split infinitive is the clearest, most natural option. If uncertain, opt for keeping the infinitive intact and placing the adverb elsewhere.

“I decided to quietly leave the party.”

In this example, the split infinitive “to quietly leave” would be corrected in formal writing by placing the adverb elsewhere, such as “to leave quietly.”

Remember that split infinitives can provide clarity and emphasis, so use discretion when determining their appropriateness in your writing. The goal is to ensure clear, polished, and effective communication within your text.

Going Beyond Grammar: Tips for Applying Infinitive Phrases

Infinitive phrases are an essential component of English grammar, playing a crucial role in enhancing clarity and impact in your writing. To effectively use these versatile phrases, you must grasp their various functions and applications within sentences. Here are some practical tips for using infinitive phrases to create fluent and nuanced prose.

  1. Recognize common contexts for bare infinitives: Bare infinitives, which lack the “to” preceding the verb, are used after certain modal verbs (e.g. can, might) and special verbs like make, let, hear, and see. Familiarize yourself with these verbs and the situations where they are employed.
  2. Embrace split infinitives when appropriate: Although traditionally avoided in formal writing, split infinitives are increasingly accepted in modern English to provide additional emphasis or clarity. Feel free to use them in casual writing and speech, but tread carefully in more formal contexts.
  3. Differentiate between infinitive and prepositional phrases: When “to” is followed by a verb, the phrase is an infinitive phrase; if “to” is followed by a noun or pronoun, it’s a prepositional phrase. Awareness of this distinction can help you accurately identify and use infinitive phrases in your writing.
  4. Explore the wide range of functions: Infinitive phrases can act as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, depending on their role in a sentence. Experiment with using them in different ways to add variety and depth to your writing.
  5. Practice with real-life examples: Reading and analyzing well-crafted writings, such as essays, short stories, and novels, will allow you to observe infinitive phrases in action and better understand their grammatical application.

Taking the time to explore infinitive phrases and their various applications will significantly elevate your writing skills, providing you with the tools you need to create a more engaging and polished final product. Keep these tips in mind and watch your writing flourish with clarity and impact.

Further Exploration: Infinitive Phrases in Various Contexts

As you dive deeper into the realm of English grammar, it’s essential to explore the applicability of infinitive phrases in diverse contexts. These versatile grammatical constructions enhance your writing and communication, providing depth and flexibility to your language. By examining their use in various literary forms and conversation styles, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of their importance and potential impact.

Infinitive phrases, with their adaptability, make appearances in poetry, prose, journalism, and even everyday speech. They act as humble sentence subjects or dynamic adverbs, and can succinctly explain actions or conjure up evocative imagery. For example, the phrase “to touch the sky” could signify a lofty ambition in a novel or serve as an expression of desire in a poem. This grammatical versatility enables you to craft compelling, sophisticated narratives that resonate with readers.

In conclusion, recognizing and utilizing infinitive phrases in your writing not only refines your grammar skills but also allows you to convey your thoughts with greater clarity and nuance. By paying close attention to their functions and roles in different contexts, you can become a more proficient and expressive English speaker and writer. So continue to explore and experiment with infinitive phrases, and watch your linguistic abilities flourish.