The infinitive is a grammatical structure that plays a significant role in English grammar. It consists of the base form of a verb preceded by the word ‘to.’ Hence, the formula of infinitives is “to + base form of a verb.” Infinitives express a purpose or action in sentences and are used in many ways.

In this article, we will discuss the meaning and function of infinitives. Through examples and exercises, you’ll learn what an infinitive looks like, when and where to use them, and some tips on avoiding common mistakes related to their usage.

What are Infinitives?

Infinitives are a distinct type of verb or verbal with three functions. First, it takes the form of a noun and can function as a subject, direct object, or subject complement of a sentence.

For example:

  • Subject: To live free from fear is a basic human right.
  • Direct Object: I have to run.
  • Subject Complement: His goal is to graduate on time.

The second role of an infinitive is acting as an adjective. As an adjective, it needs to be placed close to the noun it describes.

For example:

  • The proper authority to approach is the local police station.
  • We have a project to finish before the summer break.

Lastly, an infinitive can also act as an adverbial that modifies a verb in a sentence. Adverbs have many types, but when an infinitive acts as an adverb, it only answers why the main verb must be done. Hence, infinitives function as an adverbial of purpose.

For example:

  • We study how to perform CPR correctly to save lives in an emergency.
  • The kids cleaned their room to please their parents.
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Full Infinitives: To + Base Form of a Verb

Full infinitives are the most common type of infinitive. It follows the formula “to + base form of a verb.”

The table below summarizes the functions of full infinitives.

Expressing an intention to do something– Zack traveled to see you.
– She is writing to inform you that the house was sold.
– Sally went to withdraw her savings.
Modifying nouns– Every child needs a role model to look up to.
– He needs a snack to eat.
– It was a difficult situation to navigate.
Adding context to adjectives– Isn’t it sad to know they demolished a historical building?
– Felix is glad to accompany you to the museum.
– It was really great to watch the film you directed.
Pairing it with the words “too” and “enough”– It’s too hot to eat soup for lunch.
– I collected enough books to read for the rest of the year.
Pairing it with relative pronouns who, whom, what, where, when, and how– Mike is thinking about who to invite to his birthday party.
– That family is whom to give the gift basket.
– If you don’t know what to bring to the gathering, you can ask Lena.
– She requested the interior designer to suggest where to place the furniture in her newly renovated home.
– Derick knows when to take a step back and assess the situation.
– You can ask him how to bake if you’re looking for some help in the kitchen.
Full Infinitives Table
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Bare Infinitives: The Invisible ‘To’

The tricky part of learning infinitives is understanding and identifying bare infinitives. Bare infinitives are simply the base form of a verb without the word “to” preceding it.

The table below shows the function and examples of bare infinitives:

Using bare infinitives with modals verbs to express a conditional mood (i.e., possibility and necessity)– We can go there if you want.
– Faye could write you a letter of recommendation.
– Vin might skip the event.
– Candy must bring turkey for Thanksgiving.
– I shall buy you a new pair of shoes.
– Jerry will cry tears of joy when you graduate.
– She would cater your event.
Using bare infinitives with perception verbs bid, let, watch, see, make, help, and hear following the formula main verb + object + bare infinitive– The mayor bids the public join the assembly tomorrow.
– I’m contemplating if I should let my daughter go on the school trip.
– Ciel watched the child play with a golden retriever.
– Peter saw the car go beyond the speed limit before crashing.
– The teacher made the students recite the bill of rights.
– You heard the police talk harshly to her.
Using bare infinitives with the main verbs dare and need– The palmist dared say her future is challenging.
– How dare he treat you that way?
– I dare not cross your boundaries.
Need he call you tomorrow for our meeting?
– You need not bring a basket of bread.
Bare Infinitives table
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Split Infinitives: To + Adverb + Base Form of a Verb

Split infinitives have an adverb or adverbial phrase inserted between the “to” and the verb. This type of infinitive is considered improper in formal writing.

Here are five examples of split infinitives:

  • He wanted to quickly finish the project. → He wanted to finish the project.
  • She needed to slowly explain the instructions. → She needed to explain the instructions.
  • He tried to carefully open the box. → He tried to open the box.
  • She cared to deeply understand the problem. → She cared to understand the problem deeply.
  • He wished to silently observe the situation. → He wished to observe the situation.

Passive Infinitives: To be + Past Participle

Passive voice refers to the subject of a sentence acted upon by a verb. Passive infinitives are formed with “to be” followed by a past participle.

Here are five examples of passive infinitives:

  • I was hoping to be given a discount for the purchase.
  • The students were expected to be tested on the material.
  • The candidate prayed to be chosen for the job.
  • She wished to be invited to the party.
  • The team hoped to be awarded the trophy.

Continuous Infinitives: To be + Present Participle

Continuous infinitives are formed with “to be” followed by a present participle. They are used to express ongoing or continuous action.

Here are five examples of continuous infinitives:

  • Abi would prefer to be watching a movie instead of studying.
  • She hoped to be running a marathon one day.
  • The board members thought it would be a disaster to be losing the contract.
  • Joji wished to be cooking instead of washing the plates.
  • You need to be surfing right now while the waves are good.
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Examples of Infinitives

Here are twenty examples of infinitives used in sentences:

  1. The doctor called to tell you that your test results are in.
  2. He changed his clothes to be more comfortable in jogging.
  3. Xian continued his routine to improve his habits.
  4. The artist created a masterpiece to express her feelings.
  5. The team followed the coach’s instructions to win the game.
  6. It rained, so I had to bring my umbrella.
  7. He helped his friend to move the furniture.
  8. Marcia lives to make her dreams come true.
  9. She looked for a job to support her graduate studies.
  10. The electrician needed to repair the wiring in the house.
  11. The company offered a bonus to motivate their employees.
  12. He opened the window to let some fresh air in.
  13. The children played outside to enjoy the sunny day.
  14. She remembered to get her passport for the trip.
  15. The situation seemed to be getting worse.
  16. He stopped talking to listen to what she had to say.
  17. We tried to find a solution to the problem.
  18. The students used their phones to take notes in class.
  19. He walked to the store to buy some groceries.
  20. My father worked to provide for our family.
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Infinitives Exercises with Answers

Part I. Choose which among the infinitives in the options best completes the sentences below.

1. Rita bought a cake and needs _____________ it equally among ten children.

A. to decide

B. to prepare

C. to take

D. to divide

2. ______________ is a goal many people strive for in life.

A. To achieve

B. To improve

C. To dance

D. To act

3. After my exam, I need ________________ my room which has been a mess for days.

A. To protect

B. To design

C. To fix

D. To paint

4. If you want to build your wealth, you need ______________ your money accordingly.

A. to consider

B. To manage

C. To earn

D. To count

5. Angela said I needed _______________ my feelings so that she could understand me better.

A. To express

B. To indicate

C. To open

D. To talk

Part II. Use the base form of the verb given per item to construct sentences according to the type of infinitives required. Model answers will be given.





Part I.

1. D

2. B

3. C

4. B

5. A


1. FULL INFINITIVE: The baker thought to improve the quality of the pastries he sells.
2. SPLIT INFINITIVE: To successfully improve his product, he researched and tried different recipes.

3. CONTINUOUS INFINITIVE: The accountant needs to be using spreadsheets constantly.
4. FULL INFINITIVE: She needs to use spreadsheets to analyze her report.

5. BARE INFINITIVE: Your knowledge could protect you from being fooled.
6. PASSIVE INFINITIVE: My cat needs to be protected from potential dangers that may exist in my home, like electrical cords and toxic plants.

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Infinitives List

To acceptTo createTo hideTo place
To actTo danceTo holdTo plan
To addTo decideTo hopeTo play
To admireTo deliverTo hurryTo point
To adviseTo describeTo imagineTo prepare
To agreeTo designTo improveTo prevent
To allowTo developTo includeTo produce
To answerTo discoverTo increaseTo protect
To appearTo discussTo indicateTo prove
To arriveTo divideTo inviteTo pull
To askTo doTo joinTo put
To attemptTo drawTo jumpTo read
To avoidTo dreamTo keepTo receive
To bakeTo drinkTo kickTo replace
To becomeTo driveTo knowTo respond
To beginTo eatTo laughTo return
To believeTo enjoyTo learnTo save
To borrowTo enterTo leaveTo sell
To breakTo explainTo lendTo serve
To bringTo expressTo likeTo share
To buildTo failTo listenTo show
To buyTo fallTo liveTo sleep
To callTo fillTo lookTo spend
To careTo findTo loveTo stay
To carryTo finishTo makeTo suggest
To catchTo followTo manageTo take
To causeTo forgetTo marchTo teach
To changeTo forgiveTo markTo understand
To cleanTo formTo matterTo use
To climbTo gainTo measureTo visit
To closeTo gatherTo mentionTo wait
To collectTo giveTo missTo walk
To compareTo goTo moveTo want
To completeTo growTo needTo watch
To concernTo hangTo offerTo wear
To considerTo happenTo openTo win
To continueTo hateTo orderTo wish
To cookTo haveTo paintTo work
To countTo hearTo payTo worry
To coverTo helpTo performTo write
Infinitives Table
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Common Verbs Strictly Followed by An Infinitive

VerbExample Sentences with Infinitives
affordCorrect: I can’t afford to replace my phone.
Incorrect: I can’t afford replacing my phone.
agreeCorrect: She agreed to help me with my homework.
Incorrect: She agreed helping me with my homework.
appearCorrect: Lian appeared to like the cake you baked.
Incorrect: Lian appeared liking the cake you baked.
arrangeWe arranged to meet at the park.
askVic asked to watch the movie.
begDan begged to give his brother a chance.
careMara didn’t care to explain the topic well.
claimThey claimed to have seen a UFO.
consentShe consented to let him borrow her car.
decideThe student decided to change his major.
demandI demand to know the reason you did that.
deserveEveryone deserves to live in a safe community.
expectI expect to hear from him soon.
failThe researchers failed to defend their study.
forgetShe forgot to buy milk at the store.
helpThe lawyer helped to prepare the case.
hesitateDon’t hesitate to call me when you need help.
hopeWe hope to visit Japan next year.
learnHe learned to write when he was four years old.
manageThey managed to find a solution.
meanJay meant to surprise you for Valentine’s.
needI need to buy a new laptop.
offerThe lady offered to assist me in buying clothes.
planThey plan to go on vacation next month.
prepareShe prepared to take her final exam.
pretendHe pretended to be asleep when his parents came in.
promiseThe company promised to create an innovative product.
refuseHe refused to listen to my advice.
seemHe seemed to be in a hurry.
struggleThey struggled to make ends meet.
swearI swear to protect you from harm.
threatenMy neighbors threatened to call the police.
volunteerThey volunteered to cook for the feeding program.
waitHe waited to tell her the news.
wantGail wants to travel around the world.
wishWe wish to inform you of the changes.
Table of Verbs that are Strict;y Followed by Infinitives
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Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

English grammar, like any language, is a complex subject to study. Understanding and applying grammar rules can be challenging, especially for English language learners. However, your success in learning the language is dependent on your learning plan.

First, know that there are different levels of language proficiency. Knowing your status allows you to align it with your study materials and learning strategy. To keep your motivation, select beginner-friendly materials instead of university textbooks when starting. In doing so, you will feel less intimidated by the topics you should learn.

Second, focus on the basics: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Learn how to use them correctly in sentences and understand their meaning. It will help you build a strong foundation for your English language learning journey. Divide those topics into subtopics and learn each concept and rule one by one.

Third, find a reliable source of learning materials. Online resources such as websites, blogs, and YouTube videos are mostly free. LillyPad’s blog, for example, is a great resource for English language learning materials. Additionally, you can find books and other printed materials in your local library or bookstore.

Fourth, practice speaking the language with native speakers or other English learners. It will help you understand how to use the language correctly in conversations and improve your pronunciation.

Finally, be patient with yourself and don’t give up. Learning a language takes time and effort, so set realistic goals and celebrate your achievements along the way.

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand regular verbs and phrasal verbs.

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Common Errors Made by English Learners

Learning a new language can be difficult, and English is no exception. Even experienced English learners make mistakes when speaking or writing in the language. Here are some of the most common mistakes made by English learners:

Common MistakeWhy it HappensCorrectionExamples
Using the verbs strictly followed by infinitives with gerundsSome learners are not aware that there are verbs that must always be paired with an infinitive and not a gerund.LillyPad made it easier for you to familiarize yourself with verbs that are strictly paired with an infinitive. Refer to the table above underInfinitive List.

If memorizing those verbs is challenging for you, try checking your sentences using a grammar checker.
Correct: Vic asked to watch the movie.
Incorrect: Vic asked watching the movie.

Correct: Dan begged to give his brother a chance.
Incorrect: Dan begged giving his brother a chance.

Correct: Mara didn’t care to explain the topic well.
Incorrect: Mara didn’t care explaining the topic well.
Mistaking prepositional phrases with infinitivesPrepositional Phrase: Kalvin goes to school every weekday.

Infinitive: Kalvin is there to study law.

Prepositional Phrase: Glenda drove to the mall to fetch her son.

Infinitive: She needs to drive carefully.
Aside from an infinitive marker, “to” also functions as a preposition. It shows a place, destination, or direction as a preposition.Prepositional Phrase: Kalvin goes to school every week day.

Infinitive: Kalvin is there to study law.

Prepositional Phrase: Glenda drove to the mall to fetch her son.

Infinitive: She needs to drive carefully.
Infinitives Common Errors Table
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Learning Strategies and Best Practices for Infinitives

A holistic approach to learning a language makes it easier to understand and remember. The five macro skills, reading, listening, viewing, speaking, and writing, should be developed and used in the learning process for better language acquisition. The table below lists activities you can do when learning linking verbs:

Learning Strategies
Reading– Use flashcards to know basic English sight words and their meaning.
– Search for a material that contains a translation of common expressions from your native language to English.
– Select study materials appropriate for your language proficiency.
Listening– Listen to an audiobook or a song and write what you hear to improve your retention of English words.
– Compare and contrast two audio materials like TV ads and a speech.
– Summarize a podcast, movie, audiobook, and other English audio materials.
Viewing– Observe how native speakers speak and try to mimic it.
– Watch English movies, interviews, and tutorials.
– Use pictographs to learn and remember new words.
Speaking– Join a community of English language learners and communicate with them to improve and gain feedback.
– Integrate the language in your daily life and try to speak using English.
– Participate in speech organizations (e.g. debate clubs, theatre groups)
Writing– Write a journal of your learning journey in English.
– Answer practice tests and create your own sentences.
– Create a reflection essay on the media you watch or listen to.
Infinitives Learning Strategies Table
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Infinitives Frequently Asked Questions

An infinitive is a verb form or verbal that is not conjugated and usually appears with the word “to” before it. It can function as a noun, adjective, or ad verb. Its function is to express an action or state of being.

Split infinitives are generally not considered proper grammar in formal writing, but they are accepted in informal writing.

A full infinitive follows the formula “to + base form of a verb.” In contrast, bare infinitives omit the word “to,” making it tricky to identify. On the other hand, split infinitives deviate from the full infinitive formula by inserting an adverb between “to” and the verb.

The main difference between a gerund and an infinitive is that a gerund is a verb form ending in -ing that functions as a noun, while an infinitive is a verb form that functions as an adjective, adverb, or noun. Moreover, only gerunds function as the object of a preposition.

Infinitives can be identified by their use of the word “to” before the verb. For example, in the sentence “I want to go,” the infinitive is “to go.” The 10 most common infinitives are “to be,” “to have,” “to do,” “to say,” “to make,” “to go, ” “to take,” “to come,” “to see,” and “to know.”

Some verbs strictly take an infinitive, and those are: afford, agree, appear, arrange, ask, beg, care, claim, consent, decide, demand, deserve, expect, fail, forget, help, hesitate, hope, learn, manage, mean, need, offer, plan, prepare, pretend, promise, refuse, seem, struggle, swear, threaten, volunteer, wait, want, and wish.

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Learn from History – Follow the Science – Listen to the Experts

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