An infinitive verb is the word "to" followed by a verb. If you are going to study, or to drive, or to cook, you are using infinitive verbs. Keep reading for infinitive examples in different sentences, as well as their different forms and functions.
You can form an infinitive verb by adding "to" in front of any base verb. Infinitive verbs are not conjugated like other verbs; they stay in their infinitive forms in a sentence. Examples of common infinitive verbs include:
- to be (I want to be an astronaut.)
- to dream (James dares to dream about getting the job.)
- to have (We're going to have a baby.)
- to hold (Do you want to hold the puppy?)
- to look (I'm afraid to look at the messy room.)
- to read (The first graders are learning to read this year.)
- to write (I'm planning to write a letter to the company.)
- to sleep (It's time to sleep.)
- to throw (If Gina doesn't get her way, she's going to throw a tantrum.)
- to want (It's natural to want your team to win.)
Even though infinitives include verbs, they are not verbs. Infinitive verbs are verbals, which means they can be used as nouns, adjectives or adverbs. Depending on the words they follow, infinitives can function as different parts of a sentence, but not verbs.
Infinitives can function as nouns when they follow particular verbs. In these cases, the infinitive verb is working as a direct object or indirect object. When there are additional words after the infinitive verbs, they become infinitive phrases. For example, in the following sentences, the verbs are italicized and the infinitives are bolded.
- We decided to go out.
- I want to swim in the pool.
- Mom loves to give gifts.
- Do you swear to tell the truth?
- I'd prefer to see an action movie.
- He reminded her to go downtown.
- To dance is my little girl's dream.
- I would like to thank you for coming out tonight.
- He does not like to drink soda from a can.
- I forgot to take my vitamins today.
These infinitive verbs and phrases answer the "What?" questions posed by the verbs in the sentences. For example, in the first sentence, "We decided to go out," the infinitive phrase "to go out" answers the question "What did we decide?"
Infinitives can also modify nouns in a sentence. When infinitive verbs act as adjectives, they describe the noun that they follow.
- Do you have any laundry to wash?
- My favorite meal to make is macaroni and cheese.
- The best method to use is the hands-on method.
- The Superbowl is the game to watch.
- Peter is a difficult guy to understand.
- He certainly gave me something to think about.
- That watch is a valuable heirloom to pass down.
- This is the most important thing to know.
- You'll always have a sister to confide in.
- History is my least favorite subject to study.
Unlike infinitives that act as nouns in the sentence, adjectivial infinitives answer the question "What kind?" For example, in the sentence "Do you have any laundry to wash?" the infinitive "to wash" clarifies why kind of laundry you're looking for.
When infinitives follow an adjective, they're functioning as adverbs. They can also modify the verb in the sentence to answer the question "Why?" For example:
- Billie is finally ready to go.
- I climbed the mountain to see the view.
- Read the manual to understand more about repairing the stereo.
- Cameron travels to see the world.
- I bought a patch to stop smoking.
- My dad will be so happy to meet you!
- You are so easy to talk to.
- Kelly went to the store to buy apples.
- Let's buy snow gear to go skiing.
- I went to college to become an engineer.
Notice that any of these infinitives can appear in any sentence. It all depends on how they're functioning and what they're modifying. No matter what, infinitives are a great way to add more detail to a sentence.
You've seen several examples of infinitive verbs that include the word "to" — but not every infinitive does. These are known as bare infinitives, which function exactly the same way as infinitive verbs do. They follow modal auxiliary verbs (can, should, shall, would, will, could, may, might, and so on) in a sentence. For example:
- I can wait for the results. (NOT "I can to wait for the results")
- Should we call our parents? (NOT "Should we to call our parents?")
- Henry might lend us his truck. (NOT "Henry might to lend us his truck.")
- Our family will be okay. (NOT "Our family will to be okay.)
These infinitives function as objects to the modal verbs (I can what? I can wait) in the sentences. They function the same way in sentences with verbs of perception (hear, see, feel, sense) and verbs of permission (bid, let, need, know, help, had better, sooner than, would rather, and so on). For example:
- Oliver made me share my lunch with him.
- You'd better tell me the truth.
- Hunter would rather go to school.
- I saw her swim ten laps.
- Lola does like you.
- Can you help me carry this upstairs?
It may seem difficult to memorize these rules and verbs. However, you are the best judge of when to use bare infinitives. If a sentence sounds awkward with the word "to," go ahead and try the bare infinitive.
Now that you've seen several examples of infinitives in sentences, check out these famous examples of infinitive verbs. Soon you'll be able to spot infinitives in everything you read!
- "I love to eat. I love to read about food. I love to look into shop windows at food." - The Grand Surprise by Leo Lerman
- "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." - Mark Twain
- "Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save." - Will Rogers
- "Until the advent of television emptied the movie theaters, it was from a weekly visit to the cinema that you learned (or tried to learn) how to walk, to smoke, to kiss, to fight, to grieve." - The Decay of Cinema by Susan Sontag
- "A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized." - Fred Allen
- "To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society." - President Theodore Roosevelt
- "An enormous relief had come upon us now that the job was done. One felt an impulse to sing, to break into a run, to snigger." - A Hanging by George Orwell
- "To walk beside my father down Sixth Street was to hear the asphalt sing." - The Centaur by John Updike
These examples of infinitives demonstrate how flexible infinitive verbs can be in a sentence. Now it's time to learn more about how they can — and can't — be used when writing. Take a look at these grammar rules and tips about splitting infinitives. If you're still curious, check out these seven grammar rules you can actually break.