Saturday, February 5, 2011

What the heck is an infinitive?

An infinitive is a type of verbal phrase that can act as a noun, adverb, or adjective.

Verbal phrases include:
  1. Infinitives.
  2. Gerunds.
  3. Participles.
The main characteristic of an infinitive
  • An infinitive always begins with the word to followed by a verb (action verb, linking verb, or state of being verb).
To run
To seem
To be

Infinitives as nouns
  1. An infinitive can be a subject, object, subjective complement, or an appositive.
  2. An infinitive is never set off with commas (unless it's an appositive).
  3. As a test, an infinitive used as a noun can be replaced with the word "something."
John wanted to score an A on his test.
Test sentence: John wanted something.
Infinitives as adverbs modifying a verb

  1. The phrase can move around the sentence if it is an adverb.
  2. The phrase is followed by a comma if it begins a sentence but not if it ends a sentence.
  3. As a test, the word to can be replaced with in order to.
  4. The phrase modifies a verb or adjective.
To run the marathon, Jill trained for months.
Jill trained for months to run the marathon.
Test sentence: Jill trained for months (in order) to run the marathon.
Infinitives as adverbs modifying an adjective
  1. Always follow the adjective they modify.
  2. They cannot be moved around the sentence.
  3. Usually occur when the independent clause contains a state of being verb.
  4. Usually modifies a subjective complement (predicate adjective).
It is difficult to manage large projects.
Infinitives as adjectives
  1. The adjective infinitive immediately follows the noun it modifies.
  2. The adjective infinitive usually modifies a subject, object, or subjective complement (predicate nominative).
A truck is a good vehicle to own.
Infinitives as complementary infinitives
  • Complementary infinites simply complete the meaning of the verb and don't fit into any of the categories above.
He used to be a good friend.
  • He used (something). 
  • To be a good friend, he used.
  • He used in order to be a good friend.
  • Is used an adjective?
  • Is used a noun?
None of the above tests work. To be is a complementary infinitive.

Infinitives vs a prepositional phrase
  • A prepositional phrase contains only a noun (which is the object of the preposition) and only the modifiers (including articles) for that noun. A verb will never be found in a prepositional phrase.
    • To the park.
    • To the door.
  • An infinitive always contains a verb.
    • To park the car.
    • To drive to the park (an infinitive that contains a prepositional phrase).

Don't split your pants, and don't split your infinitives
An infinitive should always appear as the word to with its verb immediately following it.
To run.
If you place an adverb in between to and the verb, you split the infinitive. Nice job, Ace.
To quickly run.
A split infinitive is generally considered bad grammar. To repair it, move the adverb.
To run quickly.

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