What is an Infinitive? A Comprehensive Guide
Definition and Structure of Infinitives
Infinitives are verb forms that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence. They are often preceded by the word “to,” but can also appear in bare form (without “to”). The basic structure of an infinitive is “to + base form of a verb,” such as “to walk,” “to eat,” or “to sing.”
Infinitives can serve a variety of functions in a sentence, such as serving as the subject or object of a verb, or functioning as an adjective or adverb. They can also be used in infinitive phrases or clauses, which consist of an infinitive and other words that modify or complete its meaning.
Understanding the structure and uses of infinitives is important for effective communication in both written and spoken English. It can also help avoid common errors, such as confusing infinitives with gerunds or using them incorrectly in a sentence.
Types of Infinitives: Bare, to-infinitive, and Gerund
There are three types of infinitives: bare infinitives, to-infinitives, and gerunds.
Bare infinitives are infinitives without the word “to” before them. For example, “I let him go” or “She made me stay.” These verbs are often used in commands or requests.
To-infinitives are the most common type of infinitive, and they begin with the word “to” followed by the base form of the verb. For example, “I want to dance” or “He needs to study.” To-infinitives are used in a variety of contexts, including after certain verbs (such as want, need, or like), as the subject or object of a sentence, and in infinitive phrases or clauses.
Gerunds are verb forms that end in “-ing” and function as nouns in a sentence. For example, “Swimming is my favorite hobby” or “I love dancing.” Gerunds can be used as the subject or object of a sentence, or as the object of a preposition.
Understanding the differences between these types of infinitives is important for using them correctly in a sentence and avoiding common errors.
Functions of Infinitives in a Sentence
Infinitives can serve a variety of functions in a sentence, depending on their context and placement. Some common functions of infinitives include:
- Subject of a sentence: “To travel is my dream.”
- Object of a verb: “She likes to dance.”
- Object of a preposition: “He went to the store to buy milk.”
- Adjective complement: “I am happy to see you.”
- Adverbial modifier: “He ran fast to catch the train.”
- Infinitive phrase or clause: “To learn a new language, you need practice.”
Understanding the different functions of infinitives can help you use them effectively in your writing and speech. It’s also important to use them correctly to convey your intended meaning and avoid confusion for your audience.
Infinitive Phrases and Clauses
Infinitive phrases and clauses are groups of words that include an infinitive and other words that modify or complete its meaning. They can function as a noun, adjective, or adverb in a sentence.
An infinitive phrase consists of an infinitive and any accompanying words or phrases, such as adjectives or adverbs. For example, “to sing a song,” “to read a book quickly,” or “to dance with joy.”
An infinitive clause is a group of words that contains an infinitive and a subject, and can function as a noun, adjective, or adverb. For example, “To be or not to be” is an infinitive clause that functions as the subject of the sentence. Another example is “I am excited to see my friends,” where “to see my friends” is an infinitive clause that functions as an adjective complement.
Infinitive phrases and clauses can add detail and specificity to your writing and speech, and can be used in a variety of contexts. It’s important to use them correctly to convey your intended meaning and avoid confusion for your audience.
Common Errors to Avoid When Using Infinitives
Although infinitives are an important part of English grammar, they can also be a source of confusion and errors if not used correctly. Some common errors to avoid when using infinitives include:
Confusing infinitives with gerunds: Infinitives and gerunds may look similar because they both end in “-ing,” but they have different functions in a sentence. Be sure to use the correct form based on the intended function.
Splitting infinitives: Splitting an infinitive means placing an adverb between “to” and the base form of the verb, such as “to quickly run” instead of “to run quickly.” While it’s not always incorrect, it’s generally considered better to avoid splitting infinitives for the sake of clarity and style.
Using an infinitive instead of a gerund after certain verbs: Some verbs are followed by a gerund instead of an infinitive, such as “enjoy,” “admit,” and “avoid.” For example, it is correct to say “I enjoy swimming” instead of “I enjoy to swim.”
Using an infinitive as a subject when it should be a gerund: Sometimes, an infinitive is used as the subject of a sentence when a gerund would be more appropriate. For example, “To study is important” should be “Studying is important.”
Using the wrong form of the infinitive: Infinitives can be in bare form or to-infinitive form, depending on their function in a sentence. Using the wrong form can result in an incorrect sentence. For example, “I want he to leave” should be “I want him to leave.”
By avoiding these common errors and using infinitives correctly, you can improve your English grammar and communication skills.