Infinitive Phrases

You guessed it. Infinitive phrases include infinitives. So, what is an infinitive? It’s a "to + verb" construct. When “to” is attached to a verb in this manner, it’s no longer working as a preposition. Rather, it becomes part of the verb. Examples include, “to walk,” “to read,” or “to eat.” Infinitives can act as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

As a noun, they might act as the subject of the sentence. For example, “To travel is the only thing on her mind.” As an adjective, they’ll modify a noun. For example, “ShuYi always brings a book to read.” As an adverb, they’ll modify verbs, other adjectives, or other adverbs. For example, “Katherine braved the windstorm to search for her lost dog.”

With a firm grasp on infinitives and their "to + verb" constructions, let’s explore the world of infinitive phrases.

Graphic of couple dancing in the moonlight Graphic of couple dancing in the moonlight
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What Is an Infinitive Phrase?

An infinitive phrase starts with an infinitive and includes other modifiers or objects. Like infinitives themselves, infinitive phrases can act in three different capacities:

  • Nouns
  • Adjectives
  • Adverbs

Used as Nouns

As a noun, an infinitive phrase will either appear as the subject of the sentence or the direct object.

Subject

Subjects of a sentence are always nouns or pronouns. Here’s an example:

To dance beneath the stars with her is Jared’s only goal.

Let’s break that down. What is the sentence about? It’s about dancing beneath the stars with her. “To dance beneath the stars with her" operates as a noun and serves as the subject of the sentence.

Then, we’re met with the linking verb “is.” “Is” is one of the most popular linking verbs. That is, it’s not showing action. Rather, it’s linking the subject to further information, found in the subject complement. In this case, the subject complement, or that added bit of information, is “Jared’s only goal.” What about dancing beneath the stars? It’s Jared’s only goal.

Direct Object

But, what about direct objects? Direct objects are always nouns, too. They receive the action of the verb. Here’s an example:

Collum likes to meditate after a stressful day.

In this example, "to meditate after a stressful day" is the direct object of the action verb "likes." The subject, or the person we're talking about, is Collum. The verb is “likes.” What does Collum like? To meditate after a stressful day. The direct object answers the "what" of the action verb.

Example Sentences

Here are four more examples of infinitive phrases being used as nouns:

  • To travel all across Italy is Lucretia’s New Year resolution. (subject)
  • To finish a new book is the only reason Kyle would stay up all night. (subject)
  • A good habit to have is to go for a walk in the evening. (object)
  • Katherine wants to maintain a healthy lifestyle. (object)
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Used as Adjectives

As an adjective, an infinitive phrase will modify a noun in the sentence. To envision that, let's break it down with an easy example:

The best book to help you understand fairy tales is titled Once Upon a Time. (modifying the noun “book”)

In this example, the subject, or the thing being discussed, is a book. We learn more about the book, or it gets modified, by the phrase “to help you understand fairy tales.” Now, we know it’s not just a book. It’s a book that details fairy tales.

Then, the sentence completes itself with the linking verb “is” and the subject complement, or the added information about the subject, “titled Once Upon a Time.” Here are three more examples:

  • The only way to find the treasure chest is to meet with the fairy prince. (modifying the noun “way”)
  • Her favorite blanket to cozy in for the night is purple with blue paisleys. (modifying the noun “blanket”)
  • His least-favorite power tool to make home improvements is the handsaw. (modifying the noun “power tool”)

Used as Adverbs

Finally, we have our friend, the adverb. The most popular definition of an adverb is a word that modifies a verb. But, they can also provide further information about adjectives and other adverbs. Let’s take a look:

Marie walked to breathe in some fresh air.

Here, “to breathe in some fresh air” is modifying the verb “walked.” It’s giving us more information about why she took this action. Here are three more examples:

  • Joshua intended to write a novel during his sabbatical. (modifying the verb “intended”)
  • Aisling is planting a vegetable garden to eat organic foods right from her own backyard. (modifying the verb “planting”)
  • Darius is running 5 miles a day to train for the Boston marathon. (modifying the verb “running”)
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An Infinity of Information

Infinitives are great additives to our everyday language. Given their ability to take on the role of nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, they can modify nearly every part of speech.

How are you feeling about all this? Pretty confident, right? Not everyone can define an infinitive phrase off the top of their head. But, now, you can!

Double check the rest of your grammar skills and see if you’re already familiar with these five grammar hacks that will improve your grammar.