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Infinitives - English Grammar


Common questions: What is an infinitive? What is not an infinitive? Why do I need to know what an infinitive is?

Examples of infinitives

These are infinitives:

  • to do
  • to want
  • to excel
  • to pass

These are not infinitives:

  • do, does, did, doing
  • want, wants, wanted, wanting
  • excel, excels, excelled, excelling
  • pass, passes, passed, passing

The infinitive always consists of the to and the base form of the verb. Often, but not always, these two parts are together. (See split infinitive for more information about when the two do not appear together.)

Why you need to learn about infinitives

Infinitives show up quite often in discussions and explanations of grammar. There are many grammar rules and patterns in English that involve or require the use of infinitives.

For example, imagine that a grammar teacher needs to explain why this utterance is incorrect:

* I need going to class now. *

The fastest and simplest way to explain this would be to say that need is followed by an infinitive, not by a gerund.

Discussion of infinitives

In most languages, the infinitive consists of only one word. In Portuguese, for example, the infinitive to eat is comer, just one word. This difference causes confusion for some people when they learn about English grammar.

Related to infinitives

  • You may want to read about the split infinitive, a related grammar issue. Some people think that the two parts of the infinitive should never be separated. Find out what to expect on your GMAT, SAT, and TOEFL tests.
  • It is also helpful to know what to call the infinitive without the to--the base form of the verb.

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