Infinitive Phrases

What is an Infinitive Phrase?

An infinitive phrase is a group of words that includes an infinitive ("to" followed by a verb) and the objects or modifiers linked to it. The infinitive phrase can function as a noun, adjective, or adverb. It is a vital part of English syntax as it allows for more complex and descriptive sentences.

Structure of an Infinitive Phrase

A standard infinitive phrase will follow this structure:

To + verb + (optional modifiers or objects)

'To' prepares the reader for the verb that follows, transforming it into an infinitive. The verb is swiftly followed by any objects or modifiers that either complete the action of the verb or provide extra information about it.

For example:

  • To run a marathon needs outstanding stamina.
  • She pleaded with me to stay for dinner.

Functions of Infinitive Phrases

Infinitive phrases can serve a variety of purposes in the English language, each with its set of rules. They can function as:

1. Nouns

When an infinitive phrase functions as a noun, it can be a subject, direct object, or subject complement. For instance:

  • To finish her assignment was her goal. (Subject)
  • Her ambition is to become a writer. (Subject Complement)
  • I love to read mystery novels. (Direct Object)

2. Adjectives

An infinitive phrase can modify a noun or pronoun, acting as an adjective. It answers the question of ‘what kind?’ and follows the word it modifies in the sentence. For example:

  • The best way to learn English is by speaking. (modifies "way")
  • She was the first person to arrive at the party. (modifies "person")

3. Adverbs

When used as an adverb, an infinitive phrase modifies an adjective, verb, or other adverbs. In this case, it answers the questions ‘why?’, ‘how?’, or ‘when?’. See these examples:

  • To earn more money, he decided to work overtime. (modifies "decided", answering 'why?')
  • To feel the cool breeze, she left the window open all night. (modifies "left", telling 'how?'/'why?')

Rules for Using Infinitive Phrases

While using infinitive phrases, there are certain rules that we should keep in mind to make our writing grammatically correct.

1. Avoid Split Infinitives

A 'split infinitive' refers to a situation where an adverb separates 'to' and the verb. Although it's not a grave mistake, traditional grammar rules advise against it.

Incorrect: She appears to carefully drive her new car. (split by 'carefully')

Correct: She appears to drive her new car carefully.

2. Use Infinitives After Specific Verbs

The infinitive phrases commonly follow certain verbs such as 'agree', 'decide', 'plan', 'want', etc.

For example:

  • I plan to start a business.
  • She wants to study law.

3. Use Infinitives After Certain Adjectives

Certain adjectives also commonly follow infinitive phrases. This structure is used when an adjective (usually describing opinions/emotions) applies to the subject of the sentence and is followed by an infinitive phrase as a logical conclusion or consequence.

For example:

  • He is glad to see you.
  • I am sorry to hear about your loss.


Understanding what infinitive phrases are and how to use them will greatly enhance your English writing skills. Infinitive phrases are really versatile and can easily bring depth and variety to your sentences. Practice incorporating them into your writing and soon it will become second nature!

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