What is an infinitive?

infin_1‘To’ followed by a simple form of the verb is known as an infinitive. It is the base form of a verb with ‘to’. Infinitives can be used as an adjective, noun or adverb.

• The child was trying to slurp his soup.
• Jason braved the cold to pick berries for dessert.

Though infinitives always begin with ’to’ there are exceptions. An infinitive loses ‘to’ when it follows certain verbs like hear, feel, let, make, see and watch.

• When Rita heard the bell, she rushed to class.
• She made me tidy the room since I had left it in a mess.

There are certain verbs that are only followed by infinitives. They are:
hesitate, offer, promise, want.

Infinitives are often used to answer ‘why’ questions.

For general or habitual actions infinitives in subject position are used.

• She volunteered to teach the street children.
• I am prepared to face the music.


List of infinitives

Verb + infinitive
Claim         choose    fail
Appear       regret     decide
Consent      neglect    need
Arrange      attempt   ask
Forget        continue   afford
Cease         agree      neglect      
Dare           start       prefer

Forms of infinitives 

 There are four forms of infinitives.
1. The perfect infinitive
To have+ past participle

• I would like to have seen the Red Fort when I was in Delhi.
• She pretended to have read the book.

2.  The continuous infinitive
To be + present participle

• They happened to be swimming in the same pool.
• I wouldn’t like to be joking with you.

3.  The perfect continuous infinitive

To have been + present participle

• The baby seems to have been crying.
• She must have been waiting all afternoon.

4.  The passive infinitive
To be + past participle

• The door ought to be closed.
• I am hoping to be given a post in the committee.

Examples of infinitives

• The best way to understand his lecture is to listen carefully.
• To drop her home he took a detour.
• To finish the project is her only goal this week.
• They offered to help the poor children.


What is the difference between infinitives and gerunds?

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