Bare Infinitive

What Is the Bare Infinitive Form of a Verb?

A bare infinitive is an infinitive verb without the "to" in front. For example:
  • I can dance.
  • (This is an example of a bare infinitive.)
  • I want to dance.
  • (This is not a bare infinitive. This is a "full infinitive" or a "to-infinitive.")
A bare infinitive looks like the base form of a verb, which is the form listed in the dictionary (i.e., the version without "to" in front and any endings like -s, -ing, or -ed).

Table of Contents

  • Using the Bare Infinitive
  • Full Infinitives and Bare Infinitives Are Never Main Verbs
  • Bare Infinitives Function Only As Verbs
  • Interactive Test
  • Test Time!
bare infinitive

Using the Bare Infinitive

Here are the six rules for using a bare infinitive:

(1) after a modal verb

[modal verb]
+
[bare infinitive]
The most common use of a bare infinitive is after a modal verb like "can," "could," "may," "might," "shall," "should," "will," "would," and "must." In these examples, the modal verbs are in bold, and the bare infinitives are highlighted:
  • The barracuda can swim extremely fast.
  • You must believe in yourself.
  • Anne could give the presentation on Friday.
Modal verbs (or modal auxiliary verbs) express modality. Modality refers to properties such as possibility, ability, permission, obligation, and condition.
Compare the bare-infinitive examples above with these full-infinitive examples:
  • The barracuda needs to swim extremely fast.
  • You have to believe in yourself.
  • Anne is available to give the presentation on Friday.
Read more about modal verbs.

(2) after verbs of perception

[verb of perception]
+
[direct object]
+
[bare infinitive]
A verb of perception (e.g., "see," "watch," "hear," and "feel") is often followed by a bare infinitive. With this sentence structure, there is always a direct object involved. In these examples, the verbs of perception are in bold, the direct objects are underlined, and the bare infinitives are highlighted:
  • I saw Janet win.
  • They watch the moon descend every evening.
  • We will hear you sing on Saturday.
  • Jack felt the spider crawl over his hand.

(3) after the verb "help"

"help"
+
[bare infinitive]
or
"help"
+
[direct object]
+
[bare infinitive]
The verb "to help" is often followed by a bare infinitive. Sometimes, there is a direct object involved. In these examples, any direct objects are underlined, and the bare infinitives are highlighted:
  • Simon helped catch the rabbit.
  • Simon helped me catch the rabbit.
  • She helps wash the dishes.
  • She helps her mother wash the dishes.

(4) after the verb "make"

"make"
+
[direct object]
+
[bare infinitive]
The verb "to make" is often followed by a bare infinitive. With this sentence structure, "make" means "cause" or "force." There is always a direct object involved. In these examples, any direct objects are underlined, and the bare infinitives are highlighted:
  • Their story made me cry.
  • The police always make the burglars apologize.
  • She will make you pay for your mistakes.

(5) after the verb "let"

"let"
+
[direct object]
+
[bare infinitive]
The verb "to let" is often followed by a bare infinitive. With this sentence structure, "let" means "allow." There is always a direct object involved. In these examples, any direct objects are underlined, and the bare infinitives are highlighted:
  • They let Anne ride the ostrich.
  • The judge let the suspect speak.
  • Tony will let you take a holiday.

(6) after "had better" and "would rather"

"had better"
or
"would rather"

 + 

[bare infinitive]
Expressions like "had better" and "would rather," which are used for a recommendation or preference, are also followed by a bare infinitive.
  • We had better leave soon.
  • ("Had better" is similar to "should," which also takes a bare infinitive.)
  • She would rather talk to you tomorrow.
  • ("Would rather" is similar to "prefer," which takes a full infinitive.)

Interactive Test

It's your go! Select the bare infinitive in the following sentences.

Full Infinitives and Bare Infinitives Are Never Main Verbs

An infinitive verb (whether it is a full infinitive or bare infinitive) is never the main verb (also called the finite verb) in a sentence. In any sentence, the finite verb shows the tense. An infinitive verb never shows tense. For example:
  • I wanted to swim in the river.
  • (This is an example of a full infinitive. The tense is shown by "wanted," which is the main verb (finite verb) in the sentence.)
  • I could swim in the river.
  • (This is an example of a bare infinitive. The tense is shown by "could," which is the main verb.)
When a sentence contains a verb phrase (a main verb and any auxiliary verbs), the infinitive verb is never the main verb. This is something that full infinitives and bare infinitives have in common.

Bare Infinitives Function Only As Verbs

A full infinitive can be used as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. For example:
  • I like to dance.
  • (In this example, "to dance" is functioning as a noun. You could replace "to dance" with "dancing.")
  • This is your chance to dance.
  • (Here, "to dance" is functioning as an adjective. It describes "your chance.")
  • Janet went to the hall to dance.
  • (Here, "to dance" is functioning as an adverb. It tells us why Janet went to the hall.)
Bare infinitives are used only in verb phrases. They do not function as other parts of speech like full infinitives. (If you have a different view on this, please let us know.)
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.