What the heck is an infinitive? It sounds like something that Buzz Lightyear would say. To infinitive and beyond. Today, we’re delving into the fascinating world of infinitives.
Get ready for an epic ride, because by the end of this journey, you’ll be rocking infinitives like a boss.
Let’s start at the beginning—what exactly are infinitives? Well, they’re the base form of a verb preceded by the word ‘to.’ Simple, right?
♦ to write
♦ to read
♦ to create
These are all infinitives, and they’re the building blocks of action in a sentence. To isn’t part of the infinitive, but we’ll say it is because the infinitive usually starts with it.
Related Reading: Understanding Adjectives: Making Your Sentences More Descriptive
Why are Infinitives Important in Grammar?
Infinitives play a crucial role in grammar for a few reasons:
Basic Building Blocks
Understanding infinitives is like grasping the ABCs of verbs. As mentioned previously, infinitives are the foundation of verbs. They’re the simplest, most elemental form of a verb (e.g., to run, to eat, to sing).
Infinitives aren’t one-trick ponies. They can do the job of nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, making language more versatile. This flexibility gives you more freedom to mix up your sentences.
Infinitives help sentences make sense. They’re often the heart of verb phrases and help show what’s going on or how things are. Using infinitives properly makes your writing flow better.
Infinitives are commonly used to express purpose or intention. For example:
♦ I study hard to succeed.
Here, the infinitive to succeed shows the goal or purpose of the action. Having clarity in your writing is essential.
Writers often use infinitives to jazz up their writing. Infinitives let you get creative with rhythm, suspense, and mood.
In short, mastering infinitives opens up a world of possibilities for constructing sentences that are clear, expressive, and tailored to the writer’s intent.
Related Reading: The Art of Description: Techniques for Bringing Your Writing to Life
Types of Infinitives
We can categorize infinitives into different types based on their functions and structures. Here are the main infinitives:
This is the base form of the verb without the to prefix. Examples include:
We often use bare infinitives after modal verbs like can, should, or will.
♦ She can dance.
The standard form of the infinitive, is followed by the base form of the verb. Examples include
♦ to walk
♦ to sing
♦ to read
♦ He likes to read novels.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room – split infinitives. When you stick an adverb between to and the base form of a verb, that’s called a split infinitive.
Split infinitives used to be frowned upon. Some say avoid them at all costs, but truth be told, they’re not the grammatical monsters some make them out to be. Sometimes, to boldly go where no one has gone before is precisely what your sentence needs for style. Example:
♦ She decided to quickly finish her work.
This type mixes the infinitive with the -ing form of a verb, working as both a gerund and an infinitive. Example:
♦ His plan is to keep studying.
Getting the hang of these types of infinitives gives you a deeper understanding of grammar and lets you use them like a pro in your writing.
The infinitive has two tenses… the present and the perfect.
The present infinitive is the verb in its simplest form, usually preceded by to.
♦ to live
♦ to teach
♦ to bind
♦ to strike
♦ to have lived,
♦ to have taught
♦ to have bound
♦ to have struck
Functions of Infinitives
Now, here’s the cool part. Infinitives can do more than just stand there looking important. They can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.
♦ To dance is my passion. (noun)
♦ I have a book to read. (adjective)
♦ She studied hard to pass. (adverb)
Versatility at its finest!
Verbs and Nouns
It’s interesting how infinites can belong to different parts of speech because it is both verb and noun, depending on its use.
♦ To struggle was useless.
To struggle is a noun because it is the subject of the sentence and effort or exertion could replace struggle in the sentence.
♦ To escape is impossible.
We might substitute the noun escape for to escape.
♦ To exercise regularly is good for your health.
Regular exercise (a noun changed by an adjective) might be substituted for to exercise regularly.
But these three forms (to struggle, to escape, and to exercise) are also verbs because they express action. To exercise is modified by an adverb (regularly). Such forms are noun-forms of the verb. We classify them with verbs and call them infinitives.
In short, the infinitive is a verb form that acts like a noun.
An infinitive, as the examples show, rarely has a subject, so it doesn’t have a specific number or person. So, it doesn’t follow the usual rule where a verb agrees with its subject. This characteristic is why it’s called an infinitive, signifying unrestricted or free from limitations.
An adverb, an adverbial phrase, or an adverbial clause can change an infinitive.
♦ It would be useless to search longer.
♦ They allowed him to go in peace. [Adverbial phrase.]
♦ To dive among those weeds would be foolish.
♦ Theo promises to come when I send for him. [Adverbial clause.]
Don’t insert a modifier between to and the infinitive.
The infinitive can have an object if it makes sense.
♦ I long to visit France.
♦ It scared my mother to enter the house.
♦ To launch a boat was impossible.
♦ To grant your request is a pleasure.
Examples of Creative Infinitive Use
Now that we know the types, uses and importance, let’s explore some creative uses of infinitives by popular authors.
Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
The infinitive to tell highlights the challenge and internal conflict the character faces in revealing a hard truth.
♦ Nick hesitated, unsure of how to tell the truth without causing more damage.
A Vision of Fire (Gillian Anderson)
The infinitive to understand underscores the character’s quest for knowledge and the urgency of solving a compelling mystery.
♦ Caitlin O’Hara wanted to understand the mysterious visions plaguing her patients.
Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarty)
The infinitive to make reflects Madeline’s determination and vivacity in leaving a lasting impression.
♦ Madeline Mackenzie planned to make her mark on the world, one outrageous act at a time.
All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
The infinitive to escape conveys the character’s dreams and ambitions in the face of adversity.
♦ Werner Pfennig aspired to escape his war-torn surroundings and build a life based on his love for science.
The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)
The infinitive to travel expresses Hazel’s longing for adventure and foreshadows a transformative experience.
♦ Hazel Grace Lancaster yearned to travel to Amsterdam, not knowing that the journey would change her life.
10 Unwrapping Infinitive Tips
1. Recognize Infinitives in Sentences: Train your eye to identify infinitives in sentences, understanding their roles.
2. Experiment with Different Functions: Explore how infinitives can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in various contexts.
3. Use Infinitives for Purpose: Employ infinitives to express purpose or intention in your writing.
4. Avoid Redundancy: Be mindful of redundant phrases. If an infinitive doesn’t add value, consider omitting it.
5. Create Smooth Transitions: Use infinitives to create seamless transitions between ideas and paragraphs.
6. Be Consistent: Maintain consistency in your use of infinitives throughout your writing for clarity.
7. Think About Rhythm: Consider the rhythm of your sentences when incorporating infinitives for a more engaging read.
8. Be Mindful of Agreement: Remember that infinitives don’t adhere to subject-verb agreement rules. Keep this in mind when constructing sentences.
9. Enhance Descriptions with Adjectival Infinitives: Experiment with adjectival infinitives to add vivid descriptions and details to your writing.
10. Create Smooth Transitions: Use infinitives to create seamless transitions between ideas and paragraphs.
Last Words on Unwrapping Infinitives
Time to apply our newfound knowledge! Infuse your writing with infinitives to add flair and variety. They’re the secret to creating sentences that flow effortlessly and captivate your readers. So go ahead and embrace the magic they bring to your words.
Image by Three-shots from Pixabay.