'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 Nevı on Tue, 31/08/2021 - 19:59

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Hi incredible team! I want to know something about following sentence 'Sylvie is bringing the cow home to be milked.' Here I don't think' to be milked ' is the infinitive of purpose. I understand that somebody is going to milk the cow. But I haven't known that usage of' to infinitive 'yet. Which usage of the - to infinitive-is used in that ' to infinitive'phrase? I wonder if you could help me to understand. I'd really appreciate it.

Hello Nevi,

'to be milked' is a passive infinitive. I'd call it a kind of infinitive of purpose in the sentence you ask about because it clearly expresses the purpose of the first part of the sentence, though some grammars might disagree with this idea.

Although I wouldn't say it's incorrect, this sentence sounds a little unnatural to me. I would probably say 'Sylvie is bringing the cow home for it to be milked' or 'so that it is milked' instead. We tend to use a 'for' structure (as in my first alternative) when talking about a purpose that speaks about the action of another person, and 'so that' is another way of talking about purpose.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hmm Teacher you said it's the infinitive of purpose. But mustn't subjects be the same in the 'to infinitive' clause. I mean, for example, I am studying English to pass the exam. Here who is studying? Me who wants to pass the exam? Me Sylvie is bringing the cow home to be milked.' Here who is bringing the cow home? Sylvie Whos going to be milked? Cow This sentence really ambiguous maybe it can be understood like Sylvie is to be milked, which is completely wrong. I don't know if you understand what I mean. What's your thoughts about that ambiguity? Best wishes!

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 02/09/2021 - 06:18

In reply to by Nevı

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Hi Nevi,

I said that it's a kind of an infinitive of purpose to try to show that it doesn't fit the usual description of how an infinitive of purpose works. If there's a precise term for the infinitive in use here, I'm afraid I don't know what it is.

I can understand your concern about the ambiguity, but I don't see the sentence as ambiguous at all. It is very unusual for someone to speak of a woman 'being milked' (and quite inappropriate as well, I might add), but not at all for a cow to be milked. With this in mind, I don't see any ambiguity, and if the sentence is considered within a likely context, even less so. This is a good example of how syntax and lexical usage converge to produce meaning.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Thu, 08/07/2021 - 11:03

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Hi fantastic team! I am writing to find out more about to infinitive phrases. I saw following sentence while reading a text. "His office was the next room to clean." But I don't understand why '... the next room to be cleaned.' is not used here. You'd be really helping me out. Best wishes!

Hello Nevi,

You can use either the active or passive infinitive here without any difference in meaning:

the next thing to do / the next thing to be done

 

This is true of any sentence like this provided the verb is transitive; inttransitive verbs do not occur in the passive, of course. Thus you can say both of these:

the next place to see / the next place to be seen

but you have to use the active form with a verb like go:

the next place to go

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply teacher. I think when we say '... the next room to clean", to-infinitive clause indicates the purpose. On the other hand, when we say '... the next room to be cleaned. " Like somebody clean the next room. Does subject of the 'to-infinitive clause ' change when we say phrase in passive? I'd really appreciate it. Best wishes!

Hello again Nevi,

No, the choice of form here (to clean or to be cleaned) does not change who is performing the action.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Thu, 18/03/2021 - 09:15

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In this causative sentence, what does the verb "has had" denote? Whether it denotes the continuation of action for a certain period or repetition of the same action in regular intervals. He has had his car repaired. The second doubt is about the usage of "having" in continuous form. Does the meaning of the word "having" in this sentence have the same meaning as "taking"? Can we replace it with the word taking? I was having my hair cut when my phone rang.

Hi Mussorie,

In your first sentence, it's probably a single action with a result in the present. (The result is that the car is now repaired.) We would need to know the context when somebody said this sentence to know for sure.

In your second sentence, the meaning is similar to 'receiving' or 'getting'. No, we can't replace it with 'taking' because the correct phrase is 'have (my) hair cut', not 'take (my) hair cut'. Also, this meaning of 'have' is not specific to the continuous form. It can be used in other verb forms too (e.g. I have my hair cut every month).

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Wed, 17/03/2021 - 06:06

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Thank you, Kirk. Then, is the phrase "watching the game" in the sentence acting as an object complement to the word busy?

Hello Mussorie,

Yes, it's a complement of the adjective 'busy', though I'm not sure I'd call it an 'object' complement since 'is' is a linking verb.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Sun, 14/03/2021 - 11:18

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Hello Peter, this long question (different questions) requires your patience to answer. 1.What is the difference between the two sentences? 1.He is busy watching the game ( correct) 2.He is busy in watching the game (incorrect) Why the second statement is incorrect? 2.Is this statement correct? Watching the game, Ravi is busy. 3.I am a bit confused after seeing this statement because the present participle (going) in the participle phrase is not modifying the subject in the main clause. Could you please elaborate on this? Statement: Going by recent studies and anecdotal field reports, food inflation has impacted the health of the poor.

Hello Mussorie,

1. That's right -- the second statement is not correct. The structure we use here is 'to be busy doing something' -- no preposition is used between 'busy' and the '-ing' form.

2. I would recommend inverting the two phrases ('Ravi is busy watching the game'), which sounds much more natural. The sentence as it is written could be a little confusing, since 'watching the game' isn't really working in the way a participle clause usually does.

3. I'm afraid I can't explain the writer's choice here, but it might help to think of it as beginning with 'If we look at recent studies ...'. I would avoid writing the sentence like this for the reason you mention.

By the way, please don't ask us to reply sooner. We have a limited amount of time to reply to the numerous comments we get every day, and we prioritise comments that have a direct relationship to the page they are on. We try to get to others, such as this one, as soon as we can, but it can take some time. Asking us to answer them with another comment just slows everything down.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Tue, 09/03/2021 - 19:37

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Hi team, I want to know one more thing. For example, when I write these two sentences; a)We waited ages for a table. b)We waited ages to get a table. Are there any diffrences between those two sentences? Their purpose is the same which is 'table'. Thanks a lot!

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 10/03/2021 - 08:06

In reply to by Nevı

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Hi Nevı,

In this context I see no difference,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aysn on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 15:08

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Hi brilliant team, I want to learn one more thing. When I sometimes saw a verb pattern, which is especially "verb+somebody/something +to do something" I am confused about "to+infinitive" is a part of a pattern or infinitive of purpose.I mean For example "I used computer to look my school grades." -use something to do something- is one of the patterns of use, but it also have meaning of purpose. Is "to infinitive" part of the pattern or infinitive of purpose? Could you explain, please?

Hi Aysn,

I'm not sure it's really important which category a phrase falls into provided it is used correctly.

 

The infinitive of purpose explains the reason for an action:

I went to the shop to get some milk.

The sentence is still grammatically correct without the infinitive. It simply does not provide any explanation of the action.

 

The infinitive in a used to phrase does not explain a purpose or a reason. It provides the action which a person did, not why they did it. 

The infintive is also required; you cannot form a sentence with this meaning of 'used...' without it. 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Sun, 07/02/2021 - 17:38

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Peter, I am grateful for your patient replies. Thank you, Peter.

Submitted by Mussorie on Thu, 04/02/2021 - 17:57

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Could someone explain what is the difference between the below given sentences? 1. I am waiting for the movie to start. 2. I am waiting for the movie to be started.

Hello Mussorie,

In terms of grammar, the first sentence uses an active infinitive while the second uses a passive infinitive.

 

In terms of meaning, the second sentence means that someone has to start the film. The speaker is putting responsibility on the projectionist, for example. In the first sentence, the focus is on the film itself, without any suggestion of a person being responsible.

 

In terms of use, the first sentence is far more likely. If you are waiting for a film on TV or at the cinema then this is the sentence you would use. If, on the other hand, you want to say that someone is causing a delay by not starting the film when they should, then you might use the second sentence. Even in this case, however, I think the first version is more likely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter, for answering my question. I have another question to ask. Is it correct to say this sentence in terms of "Possibility" in modals? What could you gift her on her birthday?

Hello Mussorie,

The sentence is grammatically possible but whether or not it is correct or appropriate depends on what you want to say. If you can provide a context then we'll be able to say if the sentence is suitable for that context or not.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter. The context is that if a friend of mine is asking me about the possibility of gifting things to a female friend. That means what could you possibly gift her, or whether or not are you gifting her? It's not about the ability of me gifting her, but it is rather a possibility.

Hello again Mussorie,

OK, that helps to clarify what you want to say. First of all, I think 'gift her on...' is not the most natural way to phrase it. A better way would be this:

What could you get her for her birthday?

The sentence is cetainly about possibility rather than ability. It's asking about ideas for possible presents.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Nuro on Mon, 04/01/2021 - 16:37

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Hi team I have 2 questions 1)"I went to bed not to watch TV"Why this sentence is wrong? After a-positive to-Can't we use a- negative to-? 2)"They moved to İtaly in 2015 to get a better job ." In this sentence where we must use preposition? After a verb or At the end of the sentence?

Hello Nuro,

We don't normally use a negative infinitive of purpose. You could say 'so as not to' or 'in order not to' instead.

If you mean where the preposition phrase 'to Italy in 2015' should go, you've put it in the best position. One reason is that if the verb 'move' has a prepositional phrase that goes with it, it goes after 'move'. Putting the phrase here also makes it clear that the better job was in Italy.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Nuro,

When you place 'not' before an infinitive it has the meaning 'not because...' and you need to provide an alternative in the form of a positive infinitive:

I went to bed not to watch TV but to sleep.

You could also use the phrase 'so as not to', with the meaning 'in order to avoid':

I went to bed so as not to watch TV.

This has the same meaning as ' in order to not':

I went to bed (in order) to not watch TV.

 

Your second sentence is fine. I'm not sure which preposition you mean, however.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Onur_kucukoglu on Sun, 27/12/2020 - 17:23

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‘The drill takes about three hours to recharge.’ Could you explain me why we use ‘to’ in this sentence? Thank you:)

Hello Onur_kucukoglu,

The constrution here is:

take + time + infinitive

It takes five minutes to cook the pasta.

 

Here are some similar sentences:

It took us four hours to reach the top of the mountain.

It took two days to read the book.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by an10 on Sun, 29/11/2020 - 03:23

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In the sentence "It is hard to remain humble", what is the function of "humble"? I understood that an infinitive has to express a purpose in order to be an adverb.

Hello an10,

'Humble' here is an adjective. You could replace it with any other adjective: happy, sad, optimistic etc.

In terms of its function in the sentence, it is a complement.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Alicelle on Wed, 04/11/2020 - 19:17

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Hello. Why isn't it possible to make a negative statement with just to+infinitive? Why is it only possible with the other expressions (in order to and so as to)? Thanks in advance!

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 06:54

In reply to by Alicelle

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Hello Alicelle,

It is possible to use just + to + infinitive with negative forms. It's not very common, but it is possible.

Just + to + infinitive has the sense of 'for only this reason' or 'for no other reason'. For example:

He left early just to be sure he would be on time.

The meaning here is that the only reason he left early was to be on time; there was no other reason.

 

We can use a negative before 'just':

He left early not just to be sure he would be on time (but also because he wanted to stop for a coffee on the way).

 

We can also use a negative later in the sentence:

He left early just to be sure he wouldn't be late.

 

It's also possible, though very unusual, to use a negative infinitive:

He left early just to not be late (and for no other reason).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter! Two more questions based on your answer. You use "to not be" in the last sentence: 1. Why do you use that order if the negative form of an infinitive is "not to be"? 2. Why is it unusual to use a negative infinitive? Thanks!

Hello Alicelle,

You can use either 'to not be' or 'not to be'. There is no difference in meaning.

 

It's more common to use a positive infinitive with the opposite meaning. In other words, a form like 'in order to be on time' is more common than 'in order not to be late'. This is not a rule, but simply a question of frequency of use.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 08:26

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Sir, A bank uses this phrase. 'Good people to bank with' what does it mean ?

Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 19/10/2020 - 03:05

In reply to by SonuKumar

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Hi SonuKumar,

To bank with (a particular bank) means to do banking activities (e.g. opening or closing an account, transferring money). So, Good people to bank with means (We are) good people for you to do your banking business with.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 17:59

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Sir, Some banks use phrases like these:- 'Good people to grow with or Good people to bank with' what do they mean ? Do they mean 'Good people should or will bank or grow with us or they are advised, expected or requested to grow or bank with us' ?

Submitted by Jonathan R on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 05:15

In reply to by SonuKumar

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Hi SonuKumar,

It's an interesting phrase! Good people refers to the bank, and to grow with refers to you, the reader or customer. We can paraphrase it like this: (We are) good people (for you) to grow with.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anatoly on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 11:42

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Hello, I'm looking for a grammar rule to explain this construction: The government to announce new measures Thanks

Hello Anatoly,

This looks like a newspaper headline. One of the features of headlines or titles is that words are often left out. In this case, I understand the full sentence to be 'The government is to announce new measures'.

In this sort of construction, the 'to'-infinitive has a future meaning. It's often used to speak about official plans and is typically used in a formal style.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Samin on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 15:25

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Hello pls clarify this, which one is correct as past perfect Jerin had decided to walk home ,for she wanted some exercise. Jerin had decided to walk home for she had wanted some exercise. Can we use two 'had' in one sentence

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 04/09/2020 - 07:42

In reply to by Samin

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Hello Samin,

The past perfect is used when we want to describe an action which happened before another relevant action in the past. That means that when we use the past perfect there must be another past time action (using past simple or continuous) to act as a point of reference.

 

Your first sentence is correct: the past perfect action (had decided) occurs before the past simple action (wanted) ended.

Your second sentence is not correct without some other context - an action to provide a point of reference in the past simple or continuous. That's not to say it couldn't be correct. It is possible to use two or more past perfect verbs in one sentence provided there is another action to act as the point of reference. However, in your sentence this is missing.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reemtb on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 10:14

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Hello Mr. I have a question. When (to infinitive ) is the subject of the sentence, can we use all the linking verbs or just verb (be) ? For example, can l say To play with Manchester United seems an impossible dream.

Hello again Reemtb,

Yes, you can use other link verbs in sentences like this one.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Wed, 26/08/2020 - 22:37

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A. She is likely to start her new project. She has to move. She is pretending to be a man. She tends to scratch her head. She may start her new project. Are the senses and the roles of the to inf.s the same as 'start her new project' of 'may', complementing the (modal) verbs and indicating the action of the subject? Do we speak them in the same sense? If we classify the main verb of modal verbs ad the complement of the modal verbs, do we also classify the inf.s above as the complements of the 'be + adj.'s? B. I'm dying to eat that cake./I'm dying for that cake. I'm eager to try out our new suit./I'm eager for the suit. Do we speak the to inf.s above in the same sense as the 'for~'s? Do they mean the same, expressing the subject's wish, desire, or plan as adverbials? C. I hoped for some money./I hoped to take the train. I begged for more candy./I begged to go to the movies. I longed for an A./I long to get an A. I volunteered for the job./I volunteered to help the kids. I was aiming for the trophy./I was aiming to receive the trophy. Do all of this kind of 'for + N's, meaning 'In support of' or 'in favor of', can also be replaced as a to-inf.? C. I agreed with the plan./I agreed to go tomorrow. Is this to-inf. a noun phrase as an object, or an adverbial showing the object the verb is regarding?

Hello Kim Hui-jeong,

With respect to your first question, I'm afraid I'm not exactly sure what you're asking here. The only modal verb here ('may') is in the last sentence, and here it 'behaves' as with any other modal, i.e. the verb after it is a base form. The infinitive after the other verbs is one of multiple possible collocations after those verbs. Perhaps they are all similar in some sort of classification, but I'm afraid we don't present grammar using such classifications on our site.

Some of the sentences in B and C sound a little odd to me (e.g. 'I'm eager for that suit'), and I'm not sure I wouldn't say that those phrases beginning with 'for' mean 'in support of' or 'in favour of'. I'd encourage you to study the example sentences in a good dictionary to see the different ways these words are used.

If you have any other questions, could you please make them a bit shorter and focused on just one thing? It would help us answer your comments more efficiently. Thanks in advance for your understanding.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team