to + infinitive


We use the to-infinitive:

• to express purpose (to answer "Why...?"):

He bought some flowers to give to his wife.
He locked the door to keep everyone out.

We sometimes say in order to or in order not to:

We set off early in order to avoid the traffic.
They spoke quietly in order not to wake the children

… or we can say so as to or so as not to:

We set off early so as to avoid the traffic.
They spoke quietly so as not to wake the children.

• after certain verbs (see verbs followed by infinitive), particularly verbs of thinking and feeling:

choose, decide, expect, forget, hate, hope, intend, learn, like,
love, mean, plan, prefer, remember, want, would like, would love

… and verbs of saying:

agree, promise, refuse

They decided to start a business together.
Remember to turn the lights out.

Some verbs are followed by a direct object and the infinitive(see verbs followed by infinitive):

advise, ask, encourage, invite, order, persuade, remind, tell, warn,
expect, intend, would prefer, want, would like

She reminded me to turn the lights out.
He encouraged his friends to vote for him.

• after certain adjectives.

Sometimes the to-infinitive gives a reason for the adjective:

  • disappointed
  • glad
  • sad
  • happy
  • anxious
  • pleased
  • surprised
  • proud
  • unhappy

We were happy to come to the end of our journey
= We were happy because we had come to the end of our journey
John was surprised to see me
= He was surprised because he saw me

Other adjectives with the to-infinitive are:

  • able
  • unable
  • due
  • eager
  • keen
  • likely
  • unlikely
  • ready
  • prepared
  • unwilling
  • willing

Unfortunately I was unable to work for over a week.
I am really tired. I’m ready to go to bed.

We often use the to-infinitive with these adjectives after it to give opinions:

  • difficult
  • easy
  • possible
  • impossible
  • hard
  • right
  • wrong
  • kind
  • nice
  • clever
  • silly
  • foolish

It’s easy to play the piano, but it’s very difficult to play well.
He spoke so quickly it was impossible to understand him.

We use the preposition for to show who these adjectives refer to:

  • difficult
  • easy
  • possible
  • impossible
  • hard

It was difficult for us to hear what she was saying.
It is easy for you to criticise other people.

We use the preposition of with other adjectives:

It’s kind of you to help.
It would be silly of him to spend all his money.

• As a postmodifier (see noun phrases) after abstract nouns like:

  • ability
  • desire
  • need
  • wish
  • attempt
  • failure
  • opportunity
  • chance
  • intention

I have no desire to be rich.
They gave him an opportunity to escape.
She was annoyed by her failure to answer the question correctly.

• We often use a to-infinitive as a postmodifier after an indefinite pronoun (See indefinite pronouns):

When I am travelling I always take something to read.
I was all alone. I had no one to talk to.
There is hardly anything to do in most of these small towns.




Dear Sir,
                My name is Sumeet. I have seen the following three patterns in which the verb 'prefer' can be used.
1) Prefer + Noun + to + Noun
2) Prefer + Gerund + to + Gerund 
3) Prefer + Full infinitive + rather than +  Full / Bare infinitive 
I am confused about the 3rd pattern. Do we use full infinitive or bare infinitive after rather than in this pattern ? Some books say that we use full infinitive and some say that bare infinitive is used after rather than. Can you please exemplify it? Thank you so much in advance.

Hi Sumeet,

The third pattern you mention, with a full infinitive after rather than, e.g. "I would prefer to stay at home rather than to go to the party", doesn't sound right to me, but perhaps there are varieties of English in which that structure is correct.

What I have seen is prefer + full infinitive + rather than + bare infinitive / -ing form:
"I would prefer to stay at home rather than go (or going) to the party".

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team


Is there any structure to remember when we can use  to + infinitive and -ing forms or just we must remember that the verbs followed by -ing forms and verbs followed by to + infinitive and use it.
Thank you.

Hi bimsara,

I'm afraid there's no trick to learning which verbs are followed by one form or the other - you must simply learn them by heart.

Good luck!

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

I have seen sentence like this,
'We look forward to helping you'. Is this sentence correct and can we use to + ing?
Thank you.

Hi bimsara,

The word "to" in "look forward to" is a preposition, not part of an infinitive. Since verbs that follow prepositions go in the -ing form, the sentence you ask about is indeed correct.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir,
"he wept to see the desolation caused by the flood"
how 'to see' is expressing cause? I interpret it as purpose not cause.

Hi rishikesh3nov,

The explanation of to + infinitive on this page isn't exhaustive - in other words, it does not cover every possible use of this form. The verb weep is a fairly literary word, and can be used with an infinitive after it. This phrase is another way of saying "he wept when he saw the desolation caused by the flood."

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear grammar experts,
Should we use second TO if two infinities connected with AND or OR?
Please, write back as soon as possible.
Alyona, Kazakhstan

Hi Alyona,
I suppose you are asking about a sentence such as:
He would like to shake the president's hand and to speak with her.
That is correct, though people also say:
He would like to shake the president's hand and speak with her.
If I haven't answered your question, please give an example of what you mean so that I can help you better.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team