Students understanding the complexity of language

Chapter 03-04: Phrases II – Infinitive Phrases


Chapter 3: infinitive phrases

An infinitive is the unmarked base form of the verb, or the form of the verb listed in a  dictionary entry. An infinitive phrase is an infinitive verb (usually) preceded by the infinitive marker TO (which is the KEY MARKER) and can include the predicate and its attendant complements from which it is derived.
You should be able to locate an infinitive phrase by its key marker:
to + verb (in its base form)
An infinitive phrase can function as nominal, adjectival, or adverbial:
  • To wait seemed foolish when decisive action was required. (subject) nominal slot
  • Everyone wanted to go. (direct object) nominal slot
  • His ambition is to fly. (nominal subject complement) nominal slot
  • He lacked the strength to resist. (adjectival) adjectival slot
  • We must study to learn. (adverbial) adverbial slot
You should be able to identify all infinitive phrases you see in a sentence:
People were amused to watch the monkeys climbing in the trees.
  • to watch the monkeys (adjective complement)
You should be able to identify the function of an infinitive phrase:
He even found a place on the board to put his flyer.
  • To put his flyer  (adjectival, modifying PLACE)

NOTE: While it is not a common practice, keep in mind that an infinitive phrase does not require the infinitive marker TO, so you might suspect an infinitive without the marker if a base verb does not have a subject and it is functioning as a modifier. Again, the key is to recognize a verb in its base form, then determining if it has a subject and is serving as the action of that subject. If not, suspect an infinitive phrase with a deleted TO.

Finally, you should be able to distinguish between the preposition TO and the infinitive marker TO.