'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 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.

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 02/01/2014 - 10:49

In reply to by bimsara

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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,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rishikesh3nov on Fri, 27/12/2013 - 20:46

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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.

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 30/12/2013 - 10:17

In reply to by rishikesh3nov

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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,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alyonakaus on Mon, 16/09/2013 - 08:21

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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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ABIN JOSE on Thu, 05/09/2013 - 06:18

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Dear Sir,

Please help me to understand the usage of ' keen to &  keen on ' why because I wrote a sentence in my CV with keen to ( keen to work with a dynamic organization...............). 

Hello ABIN JOSE,

'Keen to' is used to talk about something you want to do but have not yet done:

'I'm very keen to meet him.' [= I haven't met him yet, but I want to]

'Keen on' is used to talk about something that you like very much right now:

'I'm really keen on cooking.' [= I enjoy cooking]

The sentence you quote from your CV looks fine as it describes your hopes and goals in the future.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Daniela R on Tue, 06/08/2013 - 01:09

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Hello , I would like to know , what is the correct form , to write Objectives in English?. I'm confused , when I want to write an objective. I don't know in which verb add "to" or omit it . Sorry If I have mistakes. Please !


Hello Daniela R,

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I understand your question.  Do you mean how do we express the reason (purpose) of our actions using infinitives?  If so, then we use 'to'.  For example:

I went to the shop to buy some fruit.

[buying some fruit was the reason for going to the shop]

I hope this answers your question.  If you had something else in mind, please reply and include an example sentence, and we'll try to help.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by weezer on Wed, 26/06/2013 - 12:13

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"There was nobody to talk to."

"I hated to be told what to do."

"The job was too difficult to be finished alone."

These things happened in the past, so why is the infinitive in the present tense ("to talk", "to be told", "to be finished")?

I understand that it is correct, but how can I explain it to someone? :)

Cheers!

Hello weezer!

 

The infinitive isn't in the present tense - it's just the infinitive form, and stands outside the tense system. You can just as well say "There will be nobody to talk to", and you will still use the infinitive.

 

Hope that helps!

 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Jeremy! Could you please explain the use of "need" as a model verb? I've been through the examples given by OALD  and it's kinda confusing. Never in my life have I ever found a grammar rule so confusing. Please explain when exactly we're not required to put 'to' after "need"     Here's the examples:

     "I need hardly tell you that the job is dangerous"

      "If she wants anything, she need only ask" here "need" without 's' is creating problem.

      "All you need bring are sheets"

Here in my part of the world, teachers who teach B.A English, have been telling the students not to put "to" after need. I was surprised to see that every grammar book gives only this one use of "need" and forgetting or denying its use with to.

Hello skinnypigeon,

"Need' is sometimes described as a semi-modal verb - that is, a verb which can function both as a modal and as a regular/normal verb.  When we use it as a modal, its form is similar to other modals, meaning we use a bare infinitive (without 'to`), form negatives by adding 'not', questions by inversion and a perfective form by adding 'have', just as we do with 'should', for example:

Need we go now?

We needn't go yet.

However, the verb is slowly changing from a modal to a regular verb and so the forms above are, gradually, becoming less common and are starting to sound a little archaic.  In fact, the positive form is no longer used in modern English and you can only really see the modal form of 'need' in questions and negatives.  Even with these forms it is much more common these days to use 'need' as a regular verb, similar to 'want':

Do we need to go now?

We don't need to go yet.

Obviously I can't comment on your textbooks or teachers in your country but do remember that English exists in many different standard forms in many countries and what is archaic in, for example, British English may be quite normal in standard English in other countries.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mohamed rauff on Sat, 23/03/2013 - 18:47

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Hi Sir,

I have confusion in using( to Preposition) with verb.

Example : somebody uses the describe verb as " to describe" somebody uses as " to describing " what is the deference between two. and in which instance we can use the above sentence. please explain. 

 ( Same as " to accept " and  " to accepting"

 Thanking you

Student

Hello mohamed!

 

I'm sorry, but without seeing the whole sentences you took your examples from, it's very hard to explain why one sentence uses 'to describe' and one uses 'to describing'. I think you are asking about the difference between to + verb and to (preposition) + verb-ing. You can have a look at my reply to alyuuv below, and see if that helps you understand. If you can give me a bit more information, I might be able to help you more.

 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alyuuv on Sun, 24/02/2013 - 10:50

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1.Researchers at Iowa State University are testing how well catnip oil works to do the same thing.

In this sentence, does 'to do the same thing' works as an adverb? or a noun? If it works as an adverb, it contains the meaning of purpose, or intent?

2.He grew up to be a good pianist.

 

In this sentence, to-infinitive is used as an adverb. My tutor says 'To' roles as 'and'.

3.To see it, you will not believe it.

In this sentence, to infinitive is used like 'even if', accoding to my KOREAN grammar book. But, my pal says that that's a wrong sentence. Is that wrong?

Hello,

I would agree with your pal - the sentence 'To see it, you will not believe it' sounds very unnatural to me.

Best wishes,

Adam

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alyuuv on Thu, 21/02/2013 - 10:53

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And also, most of my teachers(not a native) says that in these sentences, to infinitives and participle phrase is used to indicate a 'reason'.

He must be crazy to leave now.(or leaving)

(My teachers said 'to' acts like 'because')

But, above, there is a just one explanation, that is"give a opinion". And also, there is a no explanation in the book "advanced grammar in use".

Hello again alyuuv!

 

The grammar description does say that infinitives can be used to give reasons - look again:

• after certain adjectives.

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

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alyuuv on Thu, 21/02/2013 - 10:48

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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

I can't understand these parts. I've just looked up several dictionaries, and some says 'to' is a preposition which adds the meaning of expressing motion, direction, or purpose. So, what I want to say is, in the first one, are to-infinitives used to indicate a direction? And also, I don't get it what "give opinions mean.

Hello alyuuv!

 

You're right that to is a prepostion sometimes, but there is also a verb form called the infinitive. This is often used with to, but it is not the same as the preposition. It is a special grammar form, as in 'I was unable to work.' In English grammar, we can't say 'I was unable work', we use 'to +verb' instead.

We often use this infinitive form with adjectives to show what we think of something - give our opinions. For example:

 

English grammar is sometimes difficult to understand.

 

is an opinion - what I think about English grammar.

 

I hope that helps!

 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anyssa on Fri, 01/02/2013 - 03:22

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Hello, may I ask some questions ? I totally get confuse and tomorrow I'll get a test about this ;(

1. We have decided to rent a new apartment.

2. Mother always advices me to study everyday.

3. Are you planning to take a vacation this year?

4. They are considering to celebrate New Year's Eve in Bali.

5. Love can encourage people to express their true feeling towards other people and nature.

6. After New Year's Eve, would you mind to change your annoying behavior?

Do I've make these sentences correctly? Can't wait for the reply, really appreciate it. Thank you ;)

Hello Anyssa,

I'm afraid we don't have time to correct students' sentences - we have many thousands of users and only limited time to answer questions.

Of your sentences, numbers 1, 3 and 5 are good. In number 2, you misspelled a word. In sentences 4 and 6 you used infinitives where you should have used gerunds.

Good luck with your test.

Adam

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NWE Student En… on Tue, 12/06/2012 - 00:36

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Hello all ... And I want to say thank you to British Council. I love English since I was teenage ...

Submitted by Han Thurain Tun on Sat, 19/05/2012 - 07:55

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now i know. Thank u.

Submitted by Tonny Abraham on Wed, 25/04/2012 - 11:29

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Please solve my confusion.

Why infinitive "to" changed the verb in a sentence to present when it talks about the past?

e.g. He bought some floor "to" give his wife.

 

Submitted by hoacolau2204 on Tue, 13/03/2012 - 12:35

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I like this lesson. It's very useful for me. Thank you ;)

Submitted by Anastasia Rybina on Wed, 29/02/2012 - 16:42

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For me that was a very difficult lesson,but interesting.

I like it

Asya

Submitted by JSSierra on Tue, 03/01/2012 - 06:30

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Gosh.. It's always been a problem for me to use these forms properly, but thanks a lot... I guess there is no any other way that memorizing it..