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Learn How to Use the Infinitive Form in English

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Do you really know what the infinitive form of a verb is, or how to use it?

A common mistake people make is to describe the infinitive as the most basic form of a verb – in fact, it isn’t! So what is the infinitive, and how might you actually speak or write it in English? Read on to find out!

Why do we use the “to”?

The infinitive form of a verb is written with the following formula: “to + verb”. For example, “to talk”, “to find” or “to fight”.

An important point to note is the role of the word “to” in this. “To” can be used as a preposition, but in this case it’s actually a part of the verb itself.

Another major point about using the infinitive is that its form never changes. You will never use it with a conjugation or suffix as with other verbs – you never add on endings like “-ing” or “-ed”. It’s only ever used in the infinitive.

So how do you actually use it?

There are four main ways that the infinitive can be used in English:

1. As the subject of a sentence:

“She discovered her baby was starting to walk earlier than expected.”

2. To describe something you are planning to do, or intend to do:

“I will try to talk to him tomorrow night, before I come.”

3. As, or after, a direct object:

“They wanted to see how things would turn out.”

4. As an adjective or an adverb, where it describes the main action taking place:

“She went to the gym every day to prepare for the marathon.”

Gerunds and infinitives

The following is not an example of the infinitive – despite the presence of the word “to”:

“She went straight to putting his CV in the rejection pile, after she saw his name.”

“To putting” is not an infinitive – it’s actually a gerund. A gerund is often a noun that is formed by changing a verb, usually by adding “ing” at the end of it.

Remember that infinitives can never be used in a different form!

What about the basic verb?

When learning a verb, we often describe it in its infinitive form, but this is not the most basic version of a verb.

The base verb is actually even simpler – it’s just the word that describes the verb itself. For example, some base verbs include, “dream”, “discover, “describe”, “eat”. None of these need the preposition “to” in front of them. You’re not likely to ever use a verb in its base version, however – you will almost always want to use it as a verb, in some form or another.

Your turn

Learning to use infinitives is much easier than you might think, and the best way to understand it better is to keep practising at every chance you get! Try using different verbs in each of the four main ways listed above.