Infinitive Verb

Do you know the difference between an infinitive verb and a base verb? Do you know when and how to use infinitive verbs? Learn the answers to these questions with definitions and examples of infinitive verbs.

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Defining an Infinitive Verb

An infinitive verb is essentially the base form of a verb with the word "to" in front of it. When you use an infinitive verb, the "to" is a part of the verb. It is not acting as a preposition in this case.

Some examples of infinitive verbs include:

  • to be
  • to have
  • to hold
  • to sleep
  • to spend

Infinitives are never conjugated with -ed or -ing at the end because they are not used as verbs in a sentence. They’re one of the three types of verbals, which are verbs used as an adjective, noun or adverb. The other verbals are gerunds and participles.

Infinitive Verb vs. Base Verb

Infinitives include the basic (unconjugated) form of a verb, but they don’t function the same way. The most basic form of a verb is the base form. The base form is just the verb, without the "to." You’ll see verbs in their basic forms in the dictionary, but not in written sentences that require conjugation.

Base forms of verbs include:

  • be
  • have
  • hold
  • sleep
  • spend

Using an Infinitive Verb

You can use infinitives in several ways. Because they function as nouns, adjectives and adverbs, they can appear almost anywhere. Now that you can spot an infinitive, take a look at the various ways they pop up in the English language.

Object of a Sentence

The most common way to use infinitive verbs is as a direct object or an indirect object. When the subject performs an action, the infinitive can answer the question “What?” as the object of that action.

Examples of the above infinitives used as direct include:

  • I want to be an astronaut. (The verb is want)
  • Shane asked to have another hamburger. (The verb is ask)
  • The manager promised to hold the job for me. (The verb is promise)
  • Try to sleep a little more before our flight. (The verb is try)
  • Chuck hopes to spend less than $30 on his haircut. (The verb is hope)

After Adjectives

You can use infinitive verbs after adjectives to clarify meaning. Adjectives that include the words “too” or “enough” require infinitives to fill in the rest of the meaning.

For example:

  • It’s too hard to be an astronaut. (The adjective is too hard)
  • Shane is too full to have another hamburger. (The adjective is too full)
  • The manager is nice to hold the job for me. (The adjective is nice)
  • It’s smart to sleep before our flight. (The adjective is smart)
  • Chuck is wealthy enough to spend $30 on his haircut. (The adjective is wealthy enough)
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Subject of a Sentence

Infinitives do appear as the subject of a sentence from time to time. One of the most famous examples of an infinitive as the subject of a sentence is Hamlet’s immortal phrase, “To be or not to be” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

You might see infinitives appear in sentences like this:

  • To be an astronaut is my dream.
  • To have a hamburger was what Shane wanted.
  • To hold the job was what the manager promised
  • To sleep before the flight is a good idea.
  • To spend $30 on a haircut is out of the question.

Even though they’re grammatically correct, these sentences sound a bit awkward. You’re better off changing these subjects to gerunds, which are -ing words that function as nouns (for example: “Being an astronaut is my dream.” or “Sleeping before the flight is a good idea.”)

Bare Infinitives

A bare infinitive is an infinitive without “to.” It’s not the same thing as a base verb; bare infinitives are still used as verbals in a sentence. You’re most likely to see bare infinitives with modal verbs (would, could, can, should, will, may, might, ought to, shall, and others)

For example:

  • I could be an astronaut.
  • Shane might have another hamburger.
  • Can the manager hold the job for me?
  • You should sleep a little more before our flight.
  • Chuck won’t spend more than $30 on his haircut.

You’ll also see bare infinitives after other verbs, such as let, hear, feel, make, see, need, help, watch, smell, or any other verb that indicates perception. It also follows the word better in English, as in “You’d better ask permission.” instead of “You’d better to ask permission.”

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Sentence Examples of Verbs Followed by Infinitives

You’ve seen more infinitives than you think in your everyday reading. Take a look at these sentences to find common verbs that precede infinitives.

  • afford – We can't afford to eat out every night.
  • agree – Let's agree to disagree.
  • aim – I aim to please.
  • appear – She appears to have the chicken pox.
  • arrange – I'll arrange to meet you at 3:00.
  • attempt – We attempted to contact him several times.
  • beg – She begged to stay up past her bedtime.
  • care – Would you care to dance?
  • choose – He'll always choose to eat pizza if given the choice.
  • claim – They claim to have been home all night.
  • dare – Do you dare to approach me?
  • decide – We decided to get married in a hot air balloon.
  • demand – I demand to know who said that!
  • deserve – You deserve to have all you want in life.
  • determined – They are determined to finish the race.
  • expect – Do you expect to see her any time soon?
  • fail – She failed to achieve any of her goals.
  • happen – I happen to have all the things you need.
  • help – It would help to be able to swim.
  • hesitate – He hesitated to ask for the day off.
  • hope – She hopes to be engaged by the end of the summer.
  • learn – We're learning to communicate better.
  • long – Oh, how he longed to hold her in his arms!
  • manage – Have you managed to complete your work on time for once?
  • mean – I didn't mean to hurt you.
  • need – You need to think before you speak.
  • neglect – He neglected to tell his parents about the accident.
  • offer – Jim offered to help me pack.
  • plan – What do you plan to do after college?
  • prepare – I'm preparing to run away.
  • pretend – Don't pretend to sleep when I'm talking to you.
  • proceed – We then proceeded to drink until we blacked out.
  • promise – I promise to love you forever.
  • refuse – She refused to sign the documents.
  • resolve – He has resolved never to fight again.
  • seem – They seem to be having some sort of argument.
  • stop – We stopped to use the restroom and stretch.
  • swear – Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
  • tend – I tend to laugh when I'm nervous.
  • threaten – He threatened to shoot me if I didn't give him my wallet.
  • use – My brother bought spray paint, which he used to cover up the graffiti.
  • volunteer – They volunteered to paint kids' faces at the fair.
  • vow – We vowed to love and cherish one another.
  • want – Do you really want to hurt me?
  • wish – Do you wish to see me cry?
  • would hate – I would hate to be in his shoes.
  • would like – The gentleman would like to accompany the lady home.
  • would love – I would love to dance!
  • would prefer – He would prefer to go bowling, but she wants to see a movie.
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Expanding Your Infinitives

Infinitives are important building blocks in the English language. Once you’ve learned how to use infinitives in a sentence, you’re ready to expand them into infinitive phrases. Check out examples of infinitive phrases, or move on to participial phrases.