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.
Examples of Infinitives in English Grammar
Infinitives as 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.”
Infinitives as 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.”
Infinitives as 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.
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?