What Is the Infinitive Form of a Verb? (with Examples)

What Is the Infinitive Form of a Verb? (with Examples)

The infinitive form of a verb is the verb in its basic form. It is the version of the verb which will appear in the dictionary.

The infinitive form of a verb is usually preceded by to (e.g., to run, to dance, to think). The infinitive form is not always preceded by to. Look at these examples:

  • I need to run every day.
  • (The infinitive form with the word to is called the full infinitive or to-infinitive.)
  • I must run every day.
  • (After certain verbs, the to is dropped (more on this below).)
  • I run every day.
  • (This is not in the infinitive form. This is a finite verb, i.e., a verb functioning as the main verb.)
Note: The word to is not a preposition. It is often called the sign of the infinitive.

An infinitive is a non-finite verb. In other words, it cannot be the main verb in a sentence.

An infinitive can be used as a noun, an adjective or an adverb.

Examples of Infinitives as Nouns

Here are some examples of infinitive verbs as nouns:

  • To dance was her passion.
  • (The infinitive is the subject of was.)
Compare it to this:

  • Dancing was her passion.
  • (This proves that the infinitive to dance is being used a noun.)
Here is another example:

  • He likes to hunt.
  • (The infinitive is the direct object of likes.)
Compare it to this:

  • He likes hunting.
  • (This proves that the infinitive to hunt is being used a noun.)

Examples of Infinitives as Adjectives

An adjective modifies a noun to tell us something about the noun (e.g., its colour, type, or number). You have to bear this in mind when working out how infinitives function as adjectives. Here are some examples of infinitive verbs as adjectives:

  • Give him an ornament to polish.
  • (The infinitive modifies ornament. This means it is functioning as an adjective.)
Compare it to this:

  • Give him an ornament that he can polish.
  • (The clause that he must polish is an adjective clause. This proves that the infinitive to polish is being used an adjective.)
Here is another example:

  • I need a volunteer to take the minutes.
  • (The infinitive modifies volunteer. This means it is functioning as an adjective.)
Compare it to this:

  • I need a volunteer who is prepared to take the minutes.
  • (The clause who is prepared to take the minutes is an adjective clause. Therefore, the infinitive to take is being used an adjective. Note how to take is grouped with the minutes. This is an infinitive phrase.)
An infinitive that acts as an adjective usually appears immediately after the noun it is modifying.

Examples of Infinitives as Adverbs

An adverb usually modifies a verb to tell us when, where, how, in what manner, or to what extent an action is performed. You have to bear this in mind when working out how infinitives function as adverbs. Here are some examples of infinitive verbs as adverbs:

  • The officer returned to help.
  • (The infinitive modifies the verb returned. This means it is functioning as an adverb.)
Compare it to this:

  • The officer returned so he could help.
  • (The clause so he could help is an adverbial clause. This proves that the infinitive to help is being used an adverb.)
Here is another example:

  • He will complete the mission to set an example.
  • (The infinitive modifies the verb will complete. This means it is functioning as an adverb.)
Compare it to this:

  • He will complete the mission so he can set an example.
  • (The clause so he can set an example is an adverbial clause. Therefore, the infinitive to set an example is being used an adverb. Note how to set is grouped with an example. This is an infinitive phrase.)

Bare Infinitives (When Not Preceded by To)

Most infinitives are preceded by to, but after certain verbs, the to is dropped. The most obvious example is when an infinitive follows can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, or would (i.e., a modal verb). For example:



More examples (bare infinitives shaded):

  • He should go home.
  • (This is called a bare infinitive.)
  • They might finish by Wednesday.
Bare infinitives also follow other verbs. The main ones are: feel, hear, help, let, make, see, and watch. This time, there is a direct object involved. For example:



More examples (bare infinitives shaded):

  • Mark helped his friend finish.
  • (The "special" verb is helped. The direct object is his friend.)
  • I watched them bake the bread.
  • (The "special" verb is watched. The direct object is them.)

Use the Infinitive Form As a Name for a Verb

When discussing grammar, the infinitive form is used as the name for a verb. For example:

  • The verb to play has the participles playing and played.
  • In the present tense, the verb to be has the forms am, is, and, are.


See also:

What are verbs?
What are finite verbs?
What are non-finite verbs?
What is an infinitive phrase?
Glossary of grammatical terms
 
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