What Are Infinitives? And Can We Split Them or Not?

by ProWritingAid Feb 24, 2016, 0 Comments

What is a Phoneme, Grapheme, Digraph

Infinitives are verbs preceded by the word “to” that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence. Examples include:

  • to walk
  • to purchase
  • to achieve
  • to grind
  • to cater
  • to destroy
  • to read
  • to savor
  • to delight

An infinitive does not function as a verb. This means you can never add s, es, ed, or ing to the end.

Nouns

How can an infinitive function as a noun?

  • To walk to work is a requirement for her in locating a suitable apartment.

In this sentence, “To walk” functions as the noun because it’s the subject of the sentence.

  • She refuses to cater to his every whim.

“To cater” in this sentence functions as the object of “refuses.”

Adjectives

How can an infinitive function as an adjective?

  • Whenever Sandra goes to the book store, she always finds a book to purchase.

The infinitive “to purchase” is an adjective that modifies the noun “book.”

Adverbs

How can an infinitive function as an adverb?

  • She agreed to travel with the group on holiday.

The infinitive “to travel” tells us what was “agreed,” functioning as an adverb modifying a verb.

When can you split an infinitive?

According to a strict grammarian, never. It’s been written in stone for decades that “thou shalt not” split infinitives.

  • Incorrect: Robert tries to quickly finish his English paper so he can spend more time gaming.

  • Correct: Robert tries to finish his English paper quickly so he can spend more time gaming.

That said, sometimes a sentence reads better with a split infinitive, especially in informal writing. Consider the impact of the following sentences:

  • To boldly go where no man has gone before. (Thank you, Star Trek.)

It wouldn’t have the same impact if they’d said:

  • To go boldly where no man has gone before.

Consider it your literary license to boldly titillate your audience with carefully placed split infinitives. Just not too many, eh?

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