Grammar basics: What is an Infinitive?

An infinitive will almost always begin with 'to' followed by the simple form of the verb as:

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To + Verb = Infinitive

Infinitives can be used as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

The simple trick in recognizing infinitives is to look at the word 'to'To run, to sit, to cry, to jump, to drink, to read, to eat- all of these are infinitives.

Infinitives can be used in the following forms:

1. As a noun:
  • To sleep is the only thing Amy wants after her double shift waiting tables at the neighborhood cafe.
  • To dance is his hobby.
  • He likes to sing.

In the above mentioned examples: to play, to dance and to sing are the subjects of the sentence and this gives us a hint that it is being used as a noun.

2. As an adjective:
  • Wherever Manisha goes, she always brings a book to read in case she has to wait for long. (In this example, 'to read' is modifying the noun book)
  • Give him an ornament to polish. (The infinitive modifies ornament. It functions as an adjective here.)
3. As an adverb:
  • The officer returned to help us. (The infinitive modifies the verb 'returned'. This means it serves as an adverb here.)
  • Jimmy must wait to hear the results of the race. (The infinitive 'to hear' modifies the verb 'wait')

The most important thing to keep in mind while using infinitives is the use of split infinitives. The general rule is that no word should separate the 'to' of an infinitive from the simple form of the verb that follows. If a word comes between these two components, it results in a split infinitive.

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Look at the example that follows:

Sara hopes to quickly finish her chemistry homework so that she can return to the more interesting Stephen King novel she had to abandon. (Incorrect)

Sara hopes to finish her chemistry homework quickly so that she can return to the more interesting Stephen King novel she had to abandon. (Correct)

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