'to'-infinitives

Level: beginner

Verbs with to-infinitives

We use the to-infinitive after certain verbs (verbs followed by to-infinitive), particularly verbs of thinking and feeling:

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

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

and verbs of saying:

agree promise refuse threaten

We agreed to meet at the cinema.
Promise to call me every day.

Some verbs are followed by a direct object and then the to-infinitive:

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


 

He encouraged his friends to vote for him.
Remind me to give Julia a call.

Verbs with to-infinitive 1

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Verbs with to-infinitive 2

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Infinitive of purpose

We also 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 can also express purpose with in order to and in order not to:

We started our journey early in order to avoid the traffic.
They spoke quietly in order not to wake the children.

or so as to and so as not to:

We started our journey early so as to avoid the traffic.
They spoke quietly so as not to wake the children.

Infinitive of purpose 1

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Infinitive of purpose 2

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Level: intermediate

Adjectives with to-infinitives

We use the to-infinitive after certain adjectives:

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

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

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

amazed
delighted
disappointed
glad
happy
pleased
proud
relieved
sad
sorry
surprised
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.)

We often use it + be followed by an adjective to give opinions:

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

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

We use the to-infinitive with these adjectives to give opinions about people:

clever
foolish
kind
nice
right
wrong
silly
 

She was right to complain about that hotel.
You were clever to find the answer so quickly.

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

difficult easy hard possible impossible

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

With the other adjectives, we use the preposition of:

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

Adjectives with to-infinitive 1

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Adjectives with to-infinitive 2

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Level: advanced

Nouns with to-infinitives

We use the to-infinitive as a postmodifier (see noun phrases) after abstract nouns like:

ability
attempt
chance
desire
failure
need
opportunity
refusal
wish

They gave him an opportunity to escape.
He was annoyed by her refusal to answer.
I have no desire to be rich.
There is no need to shout.

We often use the to-infinitive as a postmodifier after 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.

Nouns with to-infinitive 1

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Nouns with to-infinitive 2

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Submitted by naaka on Thu, 30/07/2015 - 03:21

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Hello, "10 people to be selected." Is this a correct sentence? If it is correct where is the verb of this sentence? But I think it should be "1O people are to be selected" Thank you.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 30/07/2015 - 05:54

In reply to by naaka

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Hello naaka,

This is not a complete sentence but rather a sentence fragment. That does not mean it is incorrect - we often use sentence fragments in commmunication where the context makes the missing information clear and there is no need to repeat it.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I got some idea. But I'm confused about those sentences. I mean is it okay I use that pattern in writing. Or is it only valid for spoken. Thank you.

Submitted by naaka on Fri, 07/08/2015 - 07:11

In reply to by naaka

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Hello, Please could you give me a answer for my previous question. Thank you.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 07/08/2015 - 21:49

In reply to by naaka

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Hello naaka,

I am afraid you will have to be a little more patient. Please remember that our main role is to maintain the site and update the materials. When we have time we try to answer questions from our users. We get many questions every day and are a small team.

You have posted three questions today. We will try to answer your questions, but only when and if time allows. Please do not post follow-up questions reminding us or asking us to do it more quickly.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, Actually I'm really sorry for bothering you. I asked this question again after waiting 7 days. Because I know you are too busy with this site and extra services you provided to us.Thank you for all these works you are doing for us. Actually I have no idea how many days you want to answer a question and that's why I waited 7 days to get an answer from British council team. Now I know 7 days are not enough to answer a question. So I'm afraid to ask the answer for my question again. Because with all do respect you haven't given a answer for my question from your previous reply also. Thank you.

Hello naaka,

I have answered your question above.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 15/08/2015 - 06:06

In reply to by naaka

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Hello naaka,

This really depends on the context. Generally, as a stand-alone sentence we would use the full form, not the fragment, but in less formal writing, and as part of a longer text it may be possible to use the shorter form. However, most of the time it would be better to use the fully grammatical form (with 'are').

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Agent_009 on Mon, 13/07/2015 - 20:49

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, I have a couple sentences to clear up. My goal is to have become a doctor in seven years. My goal is to become a doctor in seven years. I read in a book that we use the present perfect infinitive (to have become) to talk about an action that will/might take place before a specified time in the future. However, using the simple infinitive (to become) looks okay too. Are both sentences okay? I hope that I am posting on the correct page. If not, I apologize. Agent_009

Hello Agent_009,

Yes, both sentences are fine. The first means 'some time before seven years' and the second means 'when seven years has passed'. You might use the second if you know that it will definitely take seven years - for example, you have a seven-year course of study ahead of you. You might use the first if you do not know how long it will take, but see seven years as being the maximum possible time you will take.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dominik9966 on Tue, 28/04/2015 - 23:02

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What a rally to win / What a rally to win a set/match / What a match to win = =It is used in excalamatory sentences, which is why it is typically used in commentary and speeches. Is it possible to use this structure when I have enough time to think about it? Beacuase I heard Federer say: It was incredibly hard shot to hit. It was a post match interview at Wimbledon. Thank you for your reading my comment! It is the last think I am curious to know about it!

Hello Dominik9966,

That is possible, but it is a different construction to the 'What a... to...' that you asked about in your first question!

The infinitive can be used after adjectives in this way:

It is easy to do.

We were stupid to try that.

You can also include a noun:

It is an easy thing to do.

We were stupid idiots to try.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Peter! Can I ask you for one more help? 1) What a shot to win a rally = exclamatory (e.g. tennis matches) 2) ..incredibly hard shot to hit = when do I usually use this structure? My last question is focused on previous post :) Wawrinka beats Federer to win MC tournament. 1) You said it is similar to infinitiv of purpose. Does it really work the same way even though it isn´t 100% infinitiv of purpose? I wish to know it to be 100% sure when I can use it. Thank you once again! :)

Hello Dominik9966,

The structure here is [adjective + to infinitive]. In some contexts it is similar in meaning to an infinitive of purpose, which can be a useful way to think of it, but it is a different structure. The use of this is similar to a gerund subject:

Swimming in this river is easy.

It's easy to swim in this river.

Hitting that shot was incredibly hard.

It was an incredibly hard shot to hit.

I'm not sure what else I can tell you. I suspect that there is a similar structure in your own language, if that language is Czech. Certainly there is a similar structure in other European languages, including Slavic languages such as Polish.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by d9990 on Mon, 20/04/2015 - 06:07

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What about the infinitives without To....... Like let etc

Submitted by Dominik9966 on Tue, 14/04/2015 - 07:22

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I am really happy to find this page. Could you help me please how this form of TO works? I haven´t found it in any book. :( Here are examples: What a rally to win. (IN TENNIS - commentator during a match) What a rally to win a set/match (the same) What a match to win. (IN TENNIS - commentator during a match) Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo tournament. I have already written similar post on WR forum but I was told I had better to ask for help here. Thank you very much for your time!

Hello Dominik9966,

You have several examples here. The first three are examples of the 'to infinitive' used to signify the achievement of doing something. It is used in excalamatory sentences, which is why it is typically used in commentary and speeches.

What a rally to win / What a rally to win a set/match / What a match to win.

The meaning here is 'what a (wonderful/amazing) rally that was, and how great an achievement it was that the player won it. We can use other question words in the same structure:

How great an achievement to finish the marathon! / How long it took to write this book!

You other example is a little different. Here we have an example of the 'to infinitive' used to express purpose:

Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo tournament.

The meaning here is similar to 'in order to':

Wawrinka beats Federer in order to win Monte Carlo tournament.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear BC team, every time when I ask a question I get an appropriate answer that apsolutely clear out my doubts, and thank you for that!! Now I am not quite sure about this sentence: "Wawrinka beats Federer in order to win Monte Carlo tournament." 1. In dictionary, there is an explanation translating "to beat" as "to defeat". So in this context, Wawrinka is loser? Right? 2. Why should we use present simple then. Is this a narrative speaking, so it that context we use present for something happened in the past? 3. The verb "beat", actually have in most casses two meanings "to defeat" and "to hit", right? However, when I translate "beat" into my native language, sometimes it sounds like "to win" which is completelly opposite from the verb"defeat". Thanks a million!!

Hello swxswx,

Thanks for your comment - that's what we're here for, and it's always nice to know that our work is appreciated!

1. 'to beat' does indeed mean 'to defeat', but it sounds as if you've misunderstood 'to defeat'. If W defeats or beats F, W wins. I'd suggest you check the dictionary again - there's a handy search box on the lower right side of this page.

2. The present tense can be used to talk about the past when we are telling a story of speaking about the story of a film or book. Here, the match is presented as a story, and so the present is used. This is quite common in talking about sport.

3. As I mentioned before, I think you've misunderstood 'to defeat' and 'to beat', because they mean 'to win'. Notice that you win a match, game, tournament or trophy, but you defeat or beat another person or team. And yes, 'beat' can also mean something like 'hit'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for clarifying! 1) How long it took to write this book! Is it still the same? I can not image saying it differently. What makes it tougher for me to understand it is I don´t find it as the same example as: What a rally to win. I am missing an adjective. I thought it was possible to say it like: "What a rally to win" every time I can add an adjective e.g. "What an (amazing/wonderful) rally to watch" but your sentence: How long it took to write this book is a bit different. There isn´t possible to add an adjective! 2) Federer beats Wawrinka to win MC tournament. So it works the same way as inf. of purpose does? So there is no need for me to create a new category for this, is it?:) Thank you in advance :)

Submitted by AndriiGro on Sun, 29/03/2015 - 16:18

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Hi, British Council! I am confused with these use cases I read on some website: "Gillian Flynn TO write female-led heist film for 12 Years a Slave director." "Man likely TO sell 'dream house' because Comcast won't give him internet." Could you help me? Thank you in advance.

Hello Andrii,

These sounds like headlines for news articles. Headlines often miss out words. In this case, the subject of each sentence 'is to do something', which means they plan to do something.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dwishiren on Sun, 15/03/2015 - 18:51

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Hello teachers. You are not referring to the country or city, but to something in it. Is it OK to use "to something" without a verb?

Hello Dwishiren,

Although it looks like part of an infinitive, 'to' here is actually a preposition and so it is fine to follow it with a noun. The verb in the second part of the sentence is the same as that in the first part, and it is omitted to avoid repetition:

You are not referring to the country or city, but (your are referring) to something in it.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by deepuips on Fri, 13/03/2015 - 14:28

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Respected sir, Please look at the sentence below I am fortunate to have him as my friend. Does the above 'to' infinitive work as a reason? I means does it mean I am fortunate because I have a friend like him? Or does it mean something else? Thank you.

Hello deepuips,

Yes, you are correct: it is is an example of an infinitive giving the reason for the adjective.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by naaka on Sat, 21/02/2015 - 02:07

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hello, "Someone asked a clown......." In this sentence why don't we put "from". I mean in this way, "Someone asked from a clown" Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 23/02/2015 - 06:36

In reply to by naaka

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Hello naaka,

That is not how the verb 'ask' works - it takes an object without any preposition. It might be helpful to look it up in our dictionary to see the example sentences there.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by naaka on Thu, 05/02/2015 - 07:57

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Hello, "He has no right to getting involved to it" Is this sentence grammatically correct? They used 'ing "form after "to".I know there are some sentences like that.for an example" I'm looking forward to helping you"And also I'd like to know how we can identify this thing. Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 06/02/2015 - 07:53

In reply to by naaka

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Hello naaka,

I'll explain this, but just so you know, you can often find the answer to questions such as this one in our dictionary. If you look up 'right' there and look through all the entries (there are quite a few), you can see: in the right › [+ to infinitive] You have every right (= you have a good reason) to complain.

Therefore, 'He has no right to get involved in it' would be the correct way to say this. (Note also that the preposition that usually goes with 'involved' is 'in'.)

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by zagrus on Sun, 14/12/2014 - 09:16

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Hello, As far as I know, "for + noun" construction is used to talk about the purpose of an action, so is right to say " he was sent for prison for killing an innocent boy." in stead of " he was sent to prison for killing an innocent boy."? and is there any difference in meaning between the two sentences? Thanks in advance

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 16/12/2014 - 07:49

In reply to by zagrus

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Hi zagrus,

The first sentence (with 'for prison') is not standard English. 'to' (and not 'for') is used to indicate direction or movement, which is what is meant here.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akshat Sharma on Tue, 25/11/2014 - 07:20

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Is 'to' always followed by a simple present tense even when the sentence is in past? ex. We were made to write 10 pages a day to improve our writing skills.

Hello Akshat Sharma,

'We were made' is a passive verb and 'to write' is the infinitive (not the simple present tense). Normally, 'make' is followed by the bare infinitive (without 'to'), e.g. 'Our teacher made us write an essay', but when 'make' is used with this meaning in the passive, a 'to' infinitive is used: 'We were made to write an essay'.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by yankio on Sun, 16/11/2014 - 02:10

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Hi,i am abit comfuse the verb, i have understand i have understood i had understood

Hi yankio.

'I have understood' is an example of the present perfect - see here for information on this form. 'I have understand' is not a correct form.

'I had understood' is an example of the past perfect - see here for more information on this form.

Please remember that some forms are more complex than others and before looking at the more complex forms it's generally a good idea to become fully familiar with other, simpler, forms first, such as present and past forms. You can find links to these and other forms on this page.

I hope those links are helpful.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kdssss on Fri, 07/11/2014 - 14:06

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Plz tell me passive voice of the sentence "there is no money to buy".

Hello kdssss,

'there is' has no passive form. Infinitives can be made passive by using the infinitive form of the verb 'be' + the past participle, in this case: 'to be bought'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ballinke on Sat, 13/09/2014 - 00:36

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Hello! I am wondering whether this sentence means the person has to do something: "the food to be eaten shall be three meals per day." In other words, is this a command? Or how would you describe it grammatically? Thanks!

Hello ballinke,

This form 'the [noun] to be [past participle]' is a formal form generally used in instructions, regulations and laws, so it may well be a command, depending on the context. It is a passive infinitive formed with [to be + past participle].

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ilared on Thu, 29/05/2014 - 10:47

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Hi In the first page of your "English Grammar" you say "Each section has interactive exercises to help you check understanding" Could you please explain to me why there is "check" rather than "to check" or "checking" and what is the general rule for that..(if there is one). Many thanks

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 30/05/2014 - 07:21

In reply to by Ilared

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Hi Ilared,

When a verb is followed by another verb, the form of the second verb depends on what the first verb is. In the sentence you ask about, the first verb is help, which is a bit of an unusual case because it can be followed by a to + infinitive or a bare infinitive (i.e. infinitive without to). Both of the following sentences are correct:

Thanks for helping me to paint my flat.
Thanks for helping me paint my flat.

Normally you can't choose what form to use after a verb: generally, the second verb must be either in the to + infinitive form (explained above) or the -ing form.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nawaf student on Tue, 20/05/2014 - 20:25

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Thank you teacher for this lesson, I have an interesting question, what about rest of adjectives that is followed by to + infinitive... you haven't mentioned them, only you've mentioned group of them.. I hope you'll comment for my question as soon as possible..

Hi Nawaf student,

You're right when you say that there are other adjectives that are like those explained above, but the purpose of our grammar pages is to help people learn the English they need for ordinary situations, not to provide an exhaustive list of every possible form. The list would be very long, indeed!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by iamsam1987 on Tue, 07/01/2014 - 17:19

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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,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by bimsara on Tue, 07/01/2014 - 03:13

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Hello!

 

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.

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 07/01/2014 - 09:58

In reply to by bimsara

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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,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bimsara on Thu, 02/01/2014 - 01:12

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Hello!

 

I have seen sentence like this,

 

'We look forward to helping you'. Is this sentence correct and can we use to + ing?

Thank you.