Infinitive phrases in English

Welcome to another class my smart brains! We will master infinitive phrases today in-depth.

Now, everything that looks like a verb does not work as a verb necessarily. A gerund that looks like a verb (V+ing) does not work as a verb; it works as a noun. Participles, both present participles and past participles, can work as adjectives though they look like a verb. Actually, they are verbs in the purest form, but they don’t act like one.

Infinitive phrases in English are not any different; they don’t function as a verb too. Infinitives in English are formed using a base form of a verb (V1), but they function as a noun, an adjective, and an adverb in a sentence.

What are infinitive phrases in English?

An infinitive phrase is a group of words that starts with an infinitive (TO + V1) and is followed by the object of the infinitive or its modifier. Infinitive phrases can perform the following functions in a sentence:

  1. Nouns
  2. Adjectives
  3. Adverbs

Infinitives (TO + V1): to eat, to run, to love, to help, to sleep, etc.,

Infinitive phrases:
To eat food daily (to eat = infinitive, food = an object of the infinitive, daily = modifier)
To run daily (to run = infinitive, daily = modifier)
To love your country (to love = infinitive, your country = an object)
To sleep in the day (To sleep = infinitive, in the day = modifier)

Structure:

  1. TO + V1 + object of the verb
    or
  2. TO + V1 + object of the verb + Modifier
    or
  3. TO + V1 + Modifier

Examples:-

  1. To meet M.S. Dhoni was an incredible experience.
    Infinitive phrase (subject): to meet M.S. Dhoni
    What was an incredible experience?
    Answer: Infinitive phrase
  2. To believe in your craft is essential for success.
    Infinitive phrase (subject): to believe in your craft
  3. You need to learn from your debacles.
    Infinitive phrase: to learn from your debacles
    Role: The object of the verb NEED
    Need what?
    Answer: Infinitive phrase
  4. She likes to dance in the rain.
    Infinitive phrase: to dance in the rain
    Role: The object of the verb LIKES
  5. One of my talents is to mimic people.
    Infinitive phrase (subject complement): to mimic people
    One of my talents = to mimic people
  6. My dream is to be a doctor.
    Infinitive phrase (subject complement) – to be a doctor
    My dream = to be a doctor

Infinitive phrases as a noun

When infinitive phrases work as a noun, they work as the following:

1. The subject of the sentence
2. The object of the verb
3. The subject complement

Examples of infinitive phrases as the subject of a sentence:

  • To provide free education is what we want to do.
  • To travel the world is my goal.
  • To reduce weight requires a lot of hard work and patience.
  • To eat thrice a day is a dream for a lot.

Examples of infinitive phrases as the object of a verb:

  • We need to listen to our elders.
  • My sister wants to open a school for the poor.
  • We are hoping to buy a new house.
  • She wants me to propose her.
    (me = indirect object, to propose her = direct object)

Examples of infinitive phrases as the subject complement:

Subject complement: it is a word or a group of words that either renames the subject or modifies it. A noun or a noun phrase renames it, and an adjective or an adjective phrase modifies. Infinitive phrases rename the subject of a sentence as they also work as a noun.

  • Her goal is to be an actress.
    (Her goal = to be an actress)
  • My first priority is to take care of my family.
  • All he wanted was to see me happy.
  • The objective of our organization is to provide free food to every poor kid.

Infinitive phrases as an adjective

Infinitive phrases can also work as an adjective in a sentence. When it does, it modifies a noun or a pronoun.

Examples of infinitive phrases as an adjective:

  1. The guy to learn SEO from is Mangesh Kumar Bhardwaj.
    (“To learn SEO from” is the infinitive phrase that’s working as an adjective and modifying the noun GUY.)
  2. We need some people to work on our social media platforms.
    (“To work on our social media platforms” is the infinitive phrase, giving information about the noun PEOPLE.)
  3. I wish I had someone to stand by me.
    (“To stand by me” is the infinitive phrase that describes the pronoun SOMEONE.)
  4. Do you need something to eat on the train?
    (“To eat on the train” modifies the pronoun SOMETHING.)

Note: when an infinitive phrase works as an adjective, it comes right after the noun it modifies.

Infinitive phrases as an adverb

Just like an adverb, an infinitive phrase also modifies a verb and tells us for what reason or purpose an action happens.

Examples of infinitive phrases as an adverb in a sentence:

  1. He is working day and night to launch an application.
    (“To launch an application” modifies the verb working and tells us why he is working day and night.)
  2. Most people do things to impress others, not to make them happy.
    (“To impress others” and “to make them happy” are the infinitive phrases that are working as adverbs, modifying the verb do, and telling us why most people do things.

A sentence can also start with an infinitive phrase working as an adverb.

  1. To make my birthday special, my friends gave me a surprise party.
    (The reason they give me a surprise party was “to make my birthday special.” )
  2. To create something that I can be proud of later in life, We are working tirelessly.
    (“To create something that I can be proud of later in life” is the infinitive phrase that’s modifying the verb working, telling us how we are working.)

Bare infinitives and bare infinitive phrases in English

Generally, infinitives start with the participle to. When it does not have the particle ‘toin the beginning; it simply starts with the base form of an action verb (V1).

We drop the particle to after modal auxiliary verbs (may, might, can, could, should, will, shall, would, and must) and some other verbs: let, see, hear, watch, help, make, bid, let, feel, sense, and had better.

Examples of bare infinitives using modal auxiliary verbs:

  • We should meditate daily.
    (Meditate is the bare infinitive, and meditate daily is the bare infinitive phrase.)
  • People should stop killing innocent animals.
    (Stop is the bare infinitive, and stop killing innocent animals is the bare infinitive phrase.)
  • Everyone must read a book daily.
    (Read is the bare infinitive, and read a book daily is the bare infinitive phrase.)
  • I could not complete the project on time.
    (Complete is the bare infinitive, and complete the project on time is the bare infinitive phrase.)

NOTE: When bare infinitives follow other verbs (let, see, hear, watch, help, make, bid, let, feel, sense, and had better), we also have an indirect object before the bare infinitives.

  • Please let him do his job without any disturbance.
    (him = indirect object)
    (do his job without any disturbance = direct object)
  • The company is making me handle the finance department.
    (me = indirect object)
    (handle the finance department = direct object)
  • My mother saw you hang out with that girl yesterday.
    (you= indirect object)
    (hang out with that girl yesterday = direct object)

NOTE: ‘Had better’ take only one object: direct object.

  • You had better listen to whatever your parents say. They want you to be happy.

More examples

  • Will you help me design the interior of my house?
  • Did she hear us talk about the surprise we are planning for her?
  • She had better apologize to her family for what she did to them.
  • I can watch my friends cry in front of anyone.

How to form an infinitive phrase?

To identify an infinitive phrase, look for the following things in a phrase:

  1. It starts with TO + the base form of a verb (V1).
  2. It has an object and/or a modifier.

Examples:-

  • My sister wants to open a school for the poor.
    Infinitive – to open
    the object of the infinitive – a school
    modifier – for the poor (modifying school)
  • To provide free education is what we want to do.
    Infinitive – to provide
    adjective: free (modifying the noun education)
    the object of the infinitive – free education
  • My dream is to be a doctor before 2022.
    Infinitive – to be
    the object of the infinitive – a doctor
    modifier – before 2022 (modifying the verb BE)
  • To eat thrice a day is a dream for a lot.
    Infinitive – to eat
    modifier – thrice a day

You have to be careful when the infinitive comes after certain verbs (modal auxiliary verbs and other verbs: let, see, hear, watch, help, make, bid, let, feel, sense, and had better) as we don’t have the particle TO in it.

  • The company is making me handle the finance department.
    (me = indirect object)
    (handle the finance department = direct object)
  • My mother saw you hang out with that girl yesterday.
    (you = indirect object)
    (hang out with that girl yesterday = direct object)
  • You had better listen to whatever your parents say. They want you to be happy.
    (listen = bare infinitive)
    (To – preposition)
    ( whatever your parents say = the object of the preposition TO)

Don’t confuse prepositional phrases starting with TO as infinitive phrases!

Look at the following prepositional phrases:

  • He is addicted to playing PUBG.
  • My father has devoted his life to helping the needy.
  • I am looking forward to teaching my students through online classes.
  • We strongly object to killing animals.
  • Are you committed to changing your bad habits?
  • Nurses all over the world are dedicated to treating the COVID19 patients, risking their lives.
  • Most people are used to following the orders of their minds.
  • I am opposed to leaving your parents and living with your girlfriend.

These might look like infinitive phrases to you, but they are not. They are prepositional phrases.

Reasons why not to consider these infinitive phrases:

  • These phrases have a progressive verb in them (V+ing). Infinitive phrases can’t have progressive verbs in them; they have a base form of a verb (V1).
  • TO here is not a part of an infinitive (TO + V1). It is a preposition. But how to find that out. When TO is preceded by some specific verbs and adjectives, it works as a preposition.

    Verbs: look forward to, confess to, adjust to, object to, and devote to.
    Adjectives: addicted to, opposed to, dedicated to, committed to, used to, and devoted to.

    Here, TO is a part of these verbs and adjectives. So, when you see them together, just understand it’s a preposition.

Check out Yourdictionary and Grammarmonster for more examples.

Here’s a video summary of the lesson:

I am sure infinitive phrases are no longer a problem for us. Feel free to empower other by sharing this post with others. See you in the next class, smart brains!

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