Infinitives: What Is An Infinitive? Functions & Examples

Infinitives! What is an infinitive? Learn infinitive definition and when to use infinitives in English with useful grammar rules, video, example sentences, and ESL worksheet.

What Is An Infinitive?

What is an infinitive? An infinitive is a verbal consisting of to + a verb, and it acts like a subject, direct object, subject complement, adjective, or adverb in a sentence. Infinitives are easy to identify because they’re written with to + a verb.

Infinitive examples:

  • To give
  • To run
  • To wait

Although an infinitive is easy to locate because of the to + verb form, deciding what function it has in a sentence can sometimes be confusing.

Keep in mind that though infinitives are verbs, they function differently from verbs, and instead, they act as a noun, adjective, or adverb.

Here are examples:

  • I desire to study alone.

Here the verb is “desire” and “to study” is the infinitive.

“To study” is the direct object of “desire” since it’s the receiver of the action of the verb.

Here the infinitive functions as a noun.

  • We can only extend our conversation if we have something in common to share.

It tells more information about the noun “conversation.”

Here conversation can only be extended if there is something common to share.

Here the infinitive “to share” functions as an adjective.

  • John left school early to join her mum’s birthday celebrations.

“To join” is the infinitive phrase.

The infinitive phrase describes more information as to why John left school early.

In other words, it modifies “left,” which is the verb.

In this sentence, the infinitive acts as an adverb.

Infinitives as Nouns

Keep in mind that a noun can be a person, place, or thing. When used as a subject or direct object in a sentence, an infinitive phrase acts as a noun. In such a case, the subject assumes the role of a verb, whereas the direct object is the receiver of the action of a verb.

Example:

  • I like to watch movies alone.

Here “like” is the verb.

“To watch” is the infinitive as it receives the action of the verb (to be liked).

“To watch” acts as a direct object of the sentence.

Here, the infinitive acts as a noun that expresses a thought.

  • To join hands with others is necessary.

In this sentence, “is” is the verb and “to join” is the infinitive as it answers the question about what is so necessary?

Here the infinitive phrase “to join” is the subject of the sentence.

This is an indication that the infinitive acts as a noun in this example.

Infinitives as Adjectives

An adjective is a word that describes more information about a noun. An infinitive act as an adjective if it modifies or describes a noun in a sentence.

Example:

  • Joyce needs a table to read on.

Here “needs” is the verb, and “table” is the subject (noun).

“To read” is the infinitive, and it acts as an adjective.

Infinitives as Adverbs

An adverb is a word that modifies or describes an adjective, verb, or an adverb. It provides additional information regarding an adjective, verb, or adverb. At times, adverbs can answer the question “why.”

Here is an example:

  • The mourners were surprised to hear that the deceased had resurrected.

Here “to hear” is the infinitive. It gives additional information about the adjective “surprised.”

When to Use Infinitives?

We use the infinitive:

To Indicate the Purpose of an Action

Infinitive examples:

  • He bought some flowers to give to his wife.
  • I will lock the door to prevent theft.

As the Subject of the Sentence

Examples:

  • To wait seemed foolish when decisive action was required.
  • To swim in that sea may be dangerous.

As the Direct Object of the Sentence

Infinitive examples:

  • I like to write in English.
  • Everyone wanted to go.

As Subject Complement

Examples:

  • His ambition is to fly.
  • What is essential is to maintain a healthy diet.

As an Adjective

Infinitive verb examples:

  • This is the best time to practice.
  • I have some jeans to wash.

As an Adverb

Examples:

  • We must carefully observe to understand.
  • I can’t wait to see.

After an Adjective

Subject + to be + adjective + (for/of someone) + to-infinitive + (rest of sentence)

Examples:

  • It is important to be patient.
  • It is wonderful to have close friends.

After an Object that Is a Noun or Pronoun Referring to a Person

Infinitive examples:

  • Can I ask you to help me with something?
  • I invited a friend to attend the ceremony.

Used with the Question Word

Examples:

  • Do you understand what to do?
  • Tell me when to press the button.

How to Use Infinitives with Examples | Picture

Infinitives! What is an infinitive? Learn infinitive definition and when to use infinitives in English with useful grammar rules, video, example sentences and ESL worksheet. 

Infinitive Verb List

Learn a useful list of Verbs Followed by Infinitives in English with examples.

Get

       Hold on for a minute, I’ve just got to put on my makeup.

Hesitate

I hesitate to spend so much money on clothes.

Hope

I hope to see you again soon.

Hurry

We’ll have to hurry to catch the last train.

Intend

I heard they intend to marry.

Learn

Children learn to creep ere they can go.

Like

Ancient people like to have a declaration before war.

Love

Men love to hear well of themselves.

Manage

Did you manage to catch the post?

Mean

I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.

Neglect

Don’t neglect to lock the door when you leave.

Need

You need to change your eating habits.

Offer

She offered to help me move my things to my new house.

Plan

Next year I plan to travel around the world.

Prefer

Would you prefer to live in the country instead of a town?

Prepare

The doctor prepared to prescribe a receipt.

Pretend

She was pretending to cry. I knew she was lying.

Proceed

They will proceed to build another laboratory building.

Promise

He promised to collect her from the airport.

Propose

We propose to deal with this subject in the following chapter.

Refuse

She refused to answer questions about her personal finances.

Remember

He had remembered to bring a pair of gloves, unlike me.

Seem

I always seem to be unlucky at cards.

Start

The child started to sob when he couldn’t find his mother.

Stop

I’m working in the garden and I stop to smoke.

Struggle

He struggled to keep his footing on the slippery floor.

Swear

Do you swear to tell the whole truth?

Threaten

They threatened to ban the book.

Try

We tried to confuse the enemy.

Volunteer

They volunteer to teach introductory courses.

Wait

I can’t wait to see you.

Want

I want to watch TV.

The Bare Infinitives

The zero (bare) infinitive is a type of complement with an infinitive verb form that’s not preceded by the particle to. Also known as the bare infinitive.

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Raes Nile
Raes Nile
9 months ago

The efforts to get her elected succeeded.
In the sentence above, what is the function of “to get her elected”?

Dhyan Mothukuri
Dhyan Mothukuri
8 months ago
Reply to  Raes Nile

Perhaps that phrase functions as adjective, for it provides information about the noun ‘The efforts’

Stranger
Stranger
2 months ago
Reply to  Raes Nile

Probably it is an example of an infinitive acting as equivalent of relative clause (dependent clause which acts as noun/pronoun modifier)

Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic
5 months ago

i dont understand

Stranger
Stranger
2 months ago
  • We can only extend our conversation if we have something in common to share.

It tells more information about the noun “conversation.”

Doesn’t this infinitive tell more not about “conversation” but about “something in common”?

And another thing:

  • Joyce needs a table to read on.

Here “needs” is the verb, and “table” is the subject (noun).

“Table” isn’t a subject, it is a direct object of “needs”, and “to read on” acts as a modifier of this “table”

Dude Man
Dude Man
1 day ago

Great!!

AMRITA PRIYADARSHINI
AMRITA PRIYADARSHINI
1 day ago
Reply to  Dude Man

nice

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