Infinitive Verbs in English

What do the sentences, “I need to go shopping,” “You need to prepare for the test tomorrow,” “He was glad to come home after a long day,” and “The child will not eat his vegetables,” all have in common? If you said they all use infinitive verbs, then you are correct!

If not, don’t worry.

This blog is all about infinitive verbs and when to use them in English.

What is an infinitive verb?

First off, let’s start by explaining what exactly an infinitive verb is. To put it quite simply, an infinitive verb is the base form of the verb. It’s not conjugated (changed based on the subject or tense), so it is not associated with a subject… it just is.

Let’s take the example “to see” in the present tense:

to see (infinitive verb)

  • I see
  • you see
  • he/she/it sees
  • we see
  • you see
  • they see

In English, the word “to” is placed in front of an infinitive verb. Sometimes the infinitive form of the verb is used as is (in the infinitive form) within a sentence.

When to use an infinitive verb in a sentence

There are a number of times we use an infinitive verb in sentences. Here are some keys as to when to do so:

– to answer the question “why”

For example:

  • He bought flowers to give to his wife. (Why did he buy the flowers?)
  • I stayed home because I didn’t want to see anyone. (Why did I stay home?)

– with the phrases in order to or in order not to

For example:

  • I set my alarm early in order to get to work on time.
  • In order not to miss the flight, we arrived at the airport three hours early.

– with the phrases so as to or so as not to

For example:

  • We spoke quietly so as not to wake up the baby.
  • I accompanied him to the airport so as to spend as much time together as possible.

– with certain verbs (mostly verbs of thinking, feeling, or saying): choose, decide, expect, forget, hate, hope, intend, learn like, love, agree, promise, refuse, etc.

For example:

  • refuse to go to the movies with her- she talks too much!
  • decide when we leave because it’s my car.
  • She always forgets to feed the cat.

– after a direct object (sometimes)

For example:

  • I reminded him to turn out the lights before getting into bed.
  • They asked me to pick up the ball.

– to give opinions

The infinitive verb is usually used after these adjectives when giving an opinion: difficult, easy, possible, right, wrong, hard, kind, nice, clever, or silly.

For example:

  • She thought it was difficult to see in the dark.
  • It was totally silly for the bird to chase the cat!

What to be aware of

There are a lot of different times we use the infinitive verb in sentences. However, we don’t want to confuse you too much! We’re hoping that this blog will make you aware of different times we use the infinitive verb in English.

Something that could really help you is to print out an article from the internet (one of our blogs, maybe?) and highlight examples of the infinitive verbs in use. Also, when speaking with native speakers, try to listen for when they use infinitive verbs. Practice makes perfect, after all!

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Have you noticed any other times people use infinitive verbs in English? Share your examples with us in the comments!

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Looking for grammar? Try Tricky Adjectives and Adverbs, when to use Which and ThatOrder of AdjectivesIts vs It’s, and Present Continuous tense!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, a blogger, a yoga instructor, and so as to not burn out, she chooses to spend a little time doing each! 

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