What are infinitive phrases, English

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What are infinitive phrases?

Infinitive phrases include the infinitive form of a verb with complements and modifiers. These words can work together as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.

Infinitives usually have the word "to" in front of a form of the verb.

to run
to swim
to play
to learn
to achieve

"To" in infinitive and prepositional phrases

It is important to avoid confusing the "to" which marks an infinitive with the preposition "to." When "to" is followed by a noun, it creates a prepositional phrase. When "to" is followed by a verb form, it creates an infinitive phrase.


to the courthouse: prepositional phrase
to see the judge: infinitive phrase

Tenses of infinitive phrases
Because infinitives are made from verbs, they can be in simple tense (as shown in the examples above) or perfect tense.

Examples of perfect tense
to have suffered
to have been
to have remembered

Uses and variations of infinitive phrases

1. Infinitive phrases can contain adverbs that modify the infinitive.

to sing joyfully
to scan quickly
to follow slavishly

2. Infinitive phrases can have complements such as objects, predicate nominatives, or predicate adjectives along with words to modify the complements.


  • to collect samples ("Samples" is an object of the infinitive.)
  • to remain still ("Still" is a predicate adjective of the infinitive linking verb "to remain.")
  • to find the true meaning of life ("Meaning" is the object of the infinitive; "the," "true," and "of life" modify "meaning.")
  • to become deliriously happy with one’s chosen occupation ("Happy" is the predicate adjective; "deliriously" is an adverb describing the degree of happiness; "with one’s chosen occupation" is a prepositional phrase describing "happy.")


3. Infinitive phrases can be used as nouns.


  • To secure voting rights for women was the goal of the suffragettes.
  • This infinitive phrase serves as the subject of this sentence.
  • They wanted to secure the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
  • This infinitive phrase is the direct object of the verb "wanted."
  • Their ultimate goal was to achieve equality.
  • This infinitive phrase is the predicate nominative that renames the subject.


4. Infinitive phrases can be used as adjectives.

Women wanted the right to vote.
This infinitive tells us what kind of right.

5. Infinitive phrases can be used as adverbs.


  • They used hunger strikes to engender awareness of their cause.
  • This infinitive phrase tells us why they used hunger strikes.
  • They were lucky to avoid death at the hands of those who force-fed them in jail.
  • This infinitive phrase modifies the predicate adjective "lucky."


Splitting infinitives

When people talk about "splitting infinitives," they are referring to separating the word "to" from the verb by inserting other words between them ("to carefully open," "to loudly and forcefully proclaim"). It is a good idea to avoid splitting infinitives in formal speech and writing. However, this rule is relaxing as the language develops.   

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