BARE INFINITIVES in English

This post helps you understand what a bare infinitive is, how and when to use it in a sentence correctly.

What is an infinitive in English?

An infinitive is ‘TO + V1’ of a verb that functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb. It is a non-finite verb, meaning it does not change per and the tense of the sentence.

Examples:

  • I need to sleep. (noun)
  • All we want is to drink something. (noun)
  • The person to meet there is Rahul. (adjective, modifying the noun ‘person’)
  • We need something to drink. It’s getting hot in here. (adjective, modifying the noun ‘something’)
  • We are going there to meet Jacob. (adverb, giving the reason of the main verb ‘going’)
  • It is important to sleep now. (adverb, modifying the adjective ‘important’)

What is a bare infinitive?

A bare infinitive, also known as a zero infinitive, is an infinitive that does not have the particle TO in it. 

Examples:

  • I made her take the test.
  • We should leave now.
  • You had better go home. It’s getting dark.
  • I would rather kill myself than marry her.

We use the bare infinitive in the following cases:

  1. After certain causative verbs and verbs of perception
  2. After modal verbs
  3. After ‘had better’ and ‘would rather’
  4. After certain prepositions
Bare infinitive explanation

After certain causative verbs and verbs of perception

We use a bare infinitive after the following verbs: make, let, see, hear, watch, help, etc.

Examples:

  • I made him say sorry to her.
  • My father does not let me smoke.
  • Did anyone watch us steal the money?
  • She did not hear us talk about the crime.
  • I helped you win the match.
  • I saw him play in the park.

Notice that these verbs are followed by an object (a person). The bare infinitive comes after the object, and also note that the object performs the action of the bare infinitive.

After modal verbs

Here are the modal verbs the bare infinitives come right next to: can, could, may, might, should, would, will, shall, must, and needn’t.

Examples:

  • You should go now.
  • Jon must work on his communication skills.
  • I can beat anyone.
  • You needn’t come tomorrow. (You are not required to come tomorrow.)
  • I can beat anyone.
  • She might now join us today.

Verbs used after the modal verbs are called bare infinitives as they don’t change their number or tense in respect to the change in the number or the tense of the subject. So they are actually working as a non-finite verb. By this logic, it is fair to call them non-finite verbs (bare infinitives).

But how can we form a sentence without having the main verb (finite verb)? The modal verb functions as an auxiliary verb. A sentence can’t be formed with a helping verb; it has to have a main verb (finite verb) after it. But that’s not the case here. We do have a verb (action) after the auxiliary verb, but we are calling it a bare infinitive. An infinitive is formed out of a verb, but it does not function as a verb. So, the application of the bare infinitive is a little strange and controversial, at least to me.

After the verbs ‘had better’ and ‘would rather’.

The expressions ‘had better’ and ‘would rather’ are followed a bare infinitive.

Examples:

  • You had better take this offer; it will change your life.
  • We’d better leave early. We might miss the flight.
  • He had better start working on his communication skills.
  • I would rather kill myself than marry her.
  • She’d rather sit jobless than work with you.
  • I’d would rather die than eat this.

HAD BETTER

The expression ‘had better’ is used to give a piece of advice/suggestion. It is used to refer to an action in the present or the future, that is desirable, or we should do. ‘Had’ sometimes is contracted with the subject.

I had better = I’d better
You had better = you’d better

WOULD RATHER

The expression ‘would rather’ is used to show what someone prefers. ‘Would’ can be contracted with the subject.

I would rather = I’d rather
We would rather = we’d rather

After the words BUT and except

To some grammarians, it is strange to use a bare infinitive after these words. But some call it grammatical to use the bare infinitive after them.

Examples:

  • I had no option but pay them.
  • He does nothing except play games on his PC.

Note that it is more common to use a regular infinitive after ‘but’ and a gerund after ‘except’.

  • I had no option but to pay them. (infinitive)
  • He does nothing except playing games on his PC. (gerund)

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6 thoughts on “BARE INFINITIVES in English”

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