A Wordle (colorful picture of strewn words of “to” and a variety of verbs)

Source: Infinitives2, Anonymous


An infinitive is made up of the word to plus a verb. Just like gerunds and participles, infinitives can form their own kind of phrases, infinitive phrases.

An infinitive can function in several ways: as a noun, adjective, or adverb.

Infinitive as noun: Consider “Jen loves to sing in the rain.” To sing is the object of the verb loves. What does Jen love? She loves to sing.

Infinitive as adjective: In “Lucy always takes a book to read on the subway,” to read modifies the noun book. What kind of book does Lucy take? One to read.

Infinitive as adverb: In “The school requires perfect attendance to graduate,” to graduate is an adverb modifying the verb requires.

Don’t confuse an infinitive with a prepositional phrase. Infinitives are always the word “to” plus a verb, as in to love, to sing, to shout, to wear, and so on. On the other hand, prepositional phrases are the word “to” plus a noun or pronoun and any modifiers, as in to him, to our house, to the beach, and to my office.

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Click on the correct answer to indicate whether the word or phrase in bold is an infinitive or a prepositional phrase.

Split Infinitives

An image of the Starship Enterprise from the 1960s television series “Star Trek”

Source: 100217-191714enterprise, rosemariekovic, Flickr

A split infinitive is an infinitive in which the word to is separated from the verb by an adverb. For example, consider this phrase from the introduction to every episode of the television show Star Trek: “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” The word “boldly” separates the infinitive “to go.” The hard-and-fast rule never to split an infinitive has relaxed somewhat in recent years, but it is usually best to avoid splitting infinitives.

Guidelines for split infinitives

= A photograph of a man washing clothes in a sink

Source: Laundry, The Advocacy Project, Flickr

Raul wanted to quickly clean the stain so that it wouldn’t set into the fabric.

In the sentence above, quickly splits the infinitive to clean. Here is the same sentence without the split infinitive:

Raul wanted to clean the stain quickly so that it wouldn’t set into the fabric.

In the following sentence “forcefully” splits “to dunk.”

Jordan loved to forcefully dunk the basketball to intimidate his opponent.

Here is the same sentence without the split infinitive:

Jordan loved to dunk the basketball forcefully to intimidate his opponent.

A photograph of a young man dunking a basketball in an outdoor net

Source: Slam dunk, wsmith0507, Flickr

It is rare that repairing an infinitive will make a sentence confusing.

Again, who wants the same cheese sandwich for lunch day in and day out? Who wants to read the same kinds of sentences over and over again? Now you are all set to spice up your writing. As you reread and revise your essays, consider using gerunds, participles, and infinitives to add variety to traditional sentence patterns. Look at the chart below for a quick review of the verbals we discussed in this lesson.

Gerund: a verb that functions as a noun; created by adding -ing to the verb

Participle: a verb that functions as an adjective; created by adding -ing, -ed, -en, or -d to the verb

Infinitive: a verb that has the word “to” in front of it

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Using gerunds, participles, and infinitives can empower you to write interesting essays with fascinating sentences that paint a picture. Identify the gerund, infinitive, and participle in the sentence below. Click to choose the correct answers, and the words will be highlighted.