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Infinitives

Like gerunds, infinitives are verbals that act as nouns.

  • I wanted to go with you. (To go is the direct object of the verb want.)
  • To become a ballerina is her greatest ambition. (To become is the subject of the verb is.)
  • We hope to open our new store soon. (To open is the direct object of the verb hope.)

The pattern for forming infinitives is as follows:

  • To + base form of the verb

Like gerunds, infinitives are often part of phrases: To become a ballerina is the entire subject of the second sentence.

Some verbs that take verbal complements must be followed by infinitives.

  • The doctor advised her to get treatment quickly.
  • We expect to sign the agreement soon.
  • Unfortunately, Mike forgot to give me his phone number.

Typically these are words expressing preference or intent, or giving orders or permission. Some common examples are as follows:

agreedecidepermit
allowencourageplan
askexpectprefer
chooseforgetrequire
commandhopewant
intend

However, some verbs take gerund complements, and others can take either a gerund or an infinitive depending on the context. Unfortunately, no reliable rules exist for determining what kind of verb complement is required.

To form the negative of an infinitive, place not in front of the infinitive.

  • She asked me not to tell you.
  • Because I was not feeling well, I decided not to go swimming.

Gray Area: Split Infinitives

An often-repeated grammar rule says that infinitives should never be “split,” meaning that no words should come between to and the base form of the verb:

  • Split: We need to completely revise our strategic plan.
  • Not split: We need to revise our strategic plan completely.

This rule was derived from Latin and Greek, where the infinitive is one word, so it is grammatically impossible to split it. However, nothing is grammatically incorrect about splitting an English infinitive, so the decision to split or not to split is a matter of style, not grammar. Gene Roddenberry thought a split infinitive was good enough for the introduction to his Star Trek TV series: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” And not splitting an infinitive sometimes makes the meaning unclear or the sentence awkward, as seen in the following example:

  • The company plans to more than triple its production in the coming year.

It is impossible to avoid splitting this infinitive without rewriting the sentence. Do whatever makes the meaning clear and the writing easy to read.

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