Verbs followed by the infinitive

Level: beginner

Many verbs in English are followed by the infinitive with to. Some of these verbs take the pattern:

  • Verb + to + infinitive

We planned to take a holiday.
She decided to stay at home.

Others verbs take the pattern:

  • Verb + noun + to + infinitive

She wanted the children to learn the piano.
I told him to ring the police.

Two very common verbs – make and let – are followed by the infinitive without to. They take the pattern:

  • Verb + noun + infinitive

My parents made me come home early.
They wouldn't let me stay out late.

The verb dare can be followed by the infinitive with or without to:

  • Verb (+ to) + infinitive

I didn't dare (to) go out after dark.

verb + to + infinitive

Some verbs are followed by the infinitive with to:

I decided to go home as soon as possible.
We all wanted to have more English classes.

Common verbs with this pattern are:

  • verbs of thinking and feeling:
choose
decide
expect
forget
hate
hope
intend
learn
like
love
mean
plan
prefer
remember
want
would like/love
  • verbs of saying:
agree promise refuse threaten
  • others
arrange
attempt
fail
help
manage
tend
try
 
Verb + to + infinitive 1

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Verb + to + infinitive 2

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verb + noun + to + infinitive

Some verbs are followed by a noun and the infinitive with to:

She asked him to send her a text message.
He wanted all his friends to come to his party.

Common verbs with this pattern are:

  • verbs of saying:
advise
ask
encourage
invite
order

 
persuade
remind

 
tell
warn*

 

* Note that warn is normally used with not:

The police warned everyone not to drive too fast.

  • verbs of wanting and liking:
hate
intend
like
love
mean
prefer
want
would like/love
  • others:
allow
enable
expect
force
get
 
teach
 

Many of the verbs above are sometimes followed by a passive infinitive (to be + past participle):

I expected to be met when I arrived at the station.
They wanted to be told if anything happened.
I don't like driving myself. I prefer to be driven.

Verb + noun + to + infinitive 1

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Verb + noun + to + infinitive 2

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Level: intermediate

make and let

The verbs make and let are followed by a noun and the infinitive without to:

They made him pay for the things he had broken.
The doctor made me wait for almost an hour.
They let you go in free at the weekend.
Will you let me come in?

But the passive form of make is followed by the infinitive with to:

He was made to pay for the things he had broken.
I was made to wait for almost an hour.

let has no passive form. We use allow instead:

We were allowed to go in free at the weekend.
I was allowed to go in.

dare

The verb dare is hardly ever found in positive sentences. It is almost always used in negative sentences and questions.

When it is used with an auxiliary or a modal verb, dare can be followed by the infinitive with or without to:

I didn't dare (to) disturb him.
Who would dare (to) accuse him?

But when there is no auxiliary or modal, dare is followed by the infinitive without to:

Nobody dared disturb him.
I daren't ask him.

make, let and dare

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 21/05/2021 - 18:04

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Hello. Could you please help me? Which form is correct? Why? 1- I have to feed the animals as well as look after the children. 2- I have to feed the animals as well as looking after the children. Thank you.
What about: - As well as looking after the children, I have to feed the animals. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

That's correct. You can use 'looking' here as the subject, but in the first sentence it was not correct because you needed an infinitive to go with 'have to'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 01/05/2021 - 20:16

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Hello team. Is the following sentence correct? If not, why? - I think I prefer to spend my money on a holiday rather than on a new car. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes, it's correct!

It's also possible to use an -ing form after prefer. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the -ing form places more emphasis on the action itself, e.g.: I prefer walking to cycling.

Using the to + infinitive form places more emphasis on the result of the action. The result (in this example, a holiday) seems more relevant to emphasise here than the action of spending itself.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please explain to me how can we emphasise an action without knowing the result, regarding to-infinitive usage? Please explain it in detail to understand better.

Hello Mussorie,

The idea here is that if I say 'I prefer walking to cycling', this implies that I'm thinking about what it's like to be walking and what it's like to be cycling, and I prefer the former. Maybe it's because I feel unsteady on a bicycle, maybe it's because I get cold or it seems unsafe -- it could be anything, but I'm thinking about what it's like to be doing the activity in some way.

On the other hand, if I say 'I'd prefer to spend my money on a holiday rather than on a new car', I'm thinking of the result of having spent the money. Maybe I really need a holiday and a new car will be difficult for me to maintain or park, for example. I'm not thinking about the moment I get the new car or the moment I'm on holiday, but rather the whole activity in some sense.

Please note that this difference isn't always implied when people use '-ing' versus an infinitive. It's often there, but not necessarily. Context or questioning the speaker is always a more reliable indicator of what they mean.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 17/04/2021 - 10:45

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Hello. I think both choices are correct in the following sentence? If not, please why? - I spoke kindly to him (not to - so as not to) frighten him. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I would recommend 'so as not to' here. When using a negative infinitive of purpose, 'so as not to' and 'in order not to' are generally preferred and 'not to' is generally avoided.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lexeus on Sun, 14/03/2021 - 09:18

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Hi Team I understand that the verb 'need' must be followed by the infinitive, but how about if I wrote "I think you need cheering up"? To me that sounds perfectly ok, and to write "I think you need to cheer up" has a slightly different meaning. So is it grammatically correct to write "I think you need cheering up"? If so, could you explain why? Thanks for your help, Lexeus.

Submitted by Jonathan R on Sun, 14/03/2021 - 12:15

In reply to by lexeus

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Hi lexeus,

Yes, it is correct! In this sentence, cheering up is a gerund, i.e., a verb form which functions as a noun. It's not a verb. The verb need can be followed by a gerund. Need with a gerund has a meaning similar to the passive voice. This sentence means I think you need to be cheered up.

Another example is This computer needs fixing (= This computer needs to be fixed).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aysn on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 19:51

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Hi Team, I want to learn something. Some verbs have diffrent patterns, but their patterns are the same meaning. For example "get somebody to do something" and "get somebody doing something" Can we use anyone in sentence? For instance 1)He got his sister to help him with his homework. 2)He got his sister helping him with his homework. Do two sentences have some meaning? And why the word "get" have different patterns although the patterns are the same meaning?

Hi Aysn,

Some verbs are followed only by the -ing form and some only by the to-infinitive. Some, as you say, can be followed by either form. Usually in these cases there is a change in meaning, however slight or nuanced. That's also the case with your example.

 

The -ing form suggests an ongoing result, while the to-infinitive form suggests a particular event. I'll use another context to illustrate it more clearly:

 

  • I got the computer to work. [It worked at one point; it may or may not have continued to work]
  • I got the computer working. [It is now fixed and can be used]

 

In your example, the second sentence sounds a little strange to me. This is because the -ing form suggests and ongoing activity, while the past form got implies finished time. It's not a grammatically impossible sentence, but there is a dissonance. I think the -ing form is more likely to occur with the present perfect, indicating an unfinished time period and telling us that she is still helping him.

 

All languages have multiple ways of expressing the same or similar ideas. This is true of lexis and of grammar. It allows to express ourselves in a myriad of styles, to use different rhetorical devices and to make our language beautiful and individual. If a given idea could only be expressed in one way our languages would be far poorer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aysn on Mon, 15/02/2021 - 10:10

In reply to by Peter M.

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Thank you teacher,I think I am understand.But,I have one more question. For example in this sentence; "My mom made me clear my room." when I want to make passive that sentence, I saw I must add "-to infinitive" Such as "I am made to* clean my room" Why I must add "-to infinitive" in passive sentence although verb pattern that is make somebody do something has no infinitive in its active sentence? Could you explain this is a rule or like something?

Hello Aysn,

I think this is just a quirk of the verb. There are some verbs whose form is different when used with passive voice, such as help:

I helped him clean his room / I helped him to clean his room. [both OK]

I was helped to clean my room. [only to-infinitive is possible here]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nuro on Tue, 26/01/2021 - 12:33

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Hi team,I am confused about one thing in this sentence. ''There are several ways to help your chances of achieving your resolution'' What is the reason of -to-here?I mean we usually use -to- after verbs in verb patterns. And how many uses of-to-in English?Can you send me an example website link that explains uses of -to- ?

Hello Nuro,

'to' is used after lots of different adjectives and nouns. There are some lists of such words on the internet, but I'd recommend that you look up words as you find them. If you look at the first few examples sentences in the Longman dictionary entry for 'way', for example, you'll see 'to'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, teacher.I understand. Lastly, for example in this sentence "Austin is not the first secretary to see this problem." what is the use of -to- here teacher?I searched, and İt is not about verb pattern.

Hello Nuro,

The verb 'to see' here is an infinitive. The construction is as follows:

the + superlative/ordinal adjective (+noun) + to adjective

...the first (secretary) to see...

You can use other adjectives in this phrase, including first, second, third (etc), last, only, most recent, best-known etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nbu2316 on Fri, 30/10/2020 - 21:57

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Hello. For me, this is confusing when it comes to deciding on the tense of the sentence. In such cases when a conjugated verb is followed by an infinitive as in the example sentence "We planned to take a holiday.", would we then have to classify this as past tense or infinitive structure? Thank you for your help.

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 31/10/2020 - 08:01

In reply to by nbu2316

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Hello nbu2316,

In this case, I'd say it's a verb phrase in the past simple because the head of the verb phrase is the past simple verb 'planned'. 

You might find this Sentence parsing tool useful.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ashish Sharma on Tue, 09/06/2020 - 14:46

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Hello! We are to do it? Is "to do" an Infinitive here?

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 09/06/2020 - 15:24

In reply to by Ashish Sharma

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Hello Ashish Sharma

Yes, it is. In a formal style, we can use the verb 'be' plus an infinitive to speak about a future time.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sebastian2020 on Sun, 10/05/2020 - 06:56

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Hi! I have a really akward doubt about the tenses used in these verb patterns, can the verbs followed by infitive(s) be in past tense? Im really sorry but I cant really get around this, For example: She needs to study harder for the next exam. (Present, 3rd Person) She needed to study harder for the last exam. (Simple Past) Are those correct? I have this annoying habit of overthinking gramamtical structures and rules, but can verbs that are followed by an infinitive be in different tenses, such as present or past? Thank you guys!

Submitted by victorray84 on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 08:50

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Hi Sir, I'm little bit confused about the following three sentences: By tomorrow, I want those books to have been read. By tomorrow, I want you to be reading your books. I want to be reading. How can I breakup the above sentences?

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 09:15

In reply to by victorray84

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Hello victorray84

We're happy to try to help, but could you please be a bit more specific? What parts do you understand and what parts do you not? Please also tell us what you understand or what you think the answer might be (even if not sure) -- this will help us help you better.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NoobsDeath on Tue, 11/02/2020 - 14:56

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Hello I have been thinking, or maybe searching this problem for a real long time. But I am unable. It's that I am in struggle between these 2 words: 1. Inventing room 2. Room inventing For sometimes, I see some international channels such as Fox, HBO write like this: War of Worlds, Yacht of racing So my question is: How to identify all of these things? If you can answer for me this. Thank you so much for removing a real obstacle

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 12/02/2020 - 07:41

In reply to by NoobsDeath

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Hello NoobsDeath

There are many compound nouns (combinations of a word with a noun) in English. I'm afraid it's difficult to know when two words can be combined or not, but I would recommend you read the Cambridge Dictionary's Nouns: compound nouns page, which explains this is in more detail.

In general, though, when two words are combined in this way, the second one is the main noun. So if you are speaking about a room where inventions are made, then 'inventing room' is the better choice, because it means something like 'a room where we invent'. 'room inventing' would refer to a kind of inventing, that is, the invention of rooms.

I hope that helps you understand this a bit better.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jumairs on Mon, 27/01/2020 - 19:24

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Hello. With regard to double object verbs, i have some questions. Question 1) I know when the prepositional phrase introduced by 'for' is used in the following verb pattern you are allowed to place an infinitive after it: "I made a cake for her to eat." but i have read that when this verb pattern includes 'to' as the preposition you can't place an infinitive after it: "I gave a cake to her to eat." Is this true, and why? or should i change the pattern around like these instead?: "I gave her a cake to eat" and "I gave a cake to eat to her" ` Question 2) I have read that certain verbs cant be used in the 'Subject > Verb > Indirect object > Object' pattern. so, for instance, i can say: "I bought her a cake" but i can't say: "I purchased her a cake" instead, I have to turn "purchased" into the 'Subject > verb > direct object > indirect object' pattern: "I purchased a cake for her" also, i can't say: "I suggested her a solution" but for some reason i can say: "I suggested to her a solution" I'm quite confused about these patterns. I cant really find any set-in-stone rules relating to what verbs take which pattern, although I've read on a wiki that words with more than one syllable generally are not used in the "S > V > I > O" pattern (not sure if this is entirely correct). Are there rules that decide these things? or do i just have to memorize each individual verb? Can you recommend a particular grammar book that covers my queries? Thank you for your help.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 31/01/2020 - 08:31

In reply to by jumairs

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Hello jumairs,

Verb patterns are sometimes not the result of deep grammatical rules, but rather simply the arbitrary outcome of linguistic use over time. In other words, if enough people use language in a certain way for long enough then the pattern becomes fixed. The use of prepositions is a good example. There is no reason why we say 'get on a bus' but 'get in a car'; it is simply the result of linguistic evolution through use.

 

I think your examples are quite similar and the answer to your questions is generally that there is no reason for the pattern other than it simply having evolved that way. That said, I don't see any problem with any of these sentences:

I made a cake for her to eat.

I gave a cake to her to eat.

I made her a cake to eat.

I gave her a cake to eat.

I don't think that this sentence sounds natural, however:

I gave a cake to eat to her.

 

Both I bought her a cake and I purchased her a cake are perfectly fine. These are examples of double object verbs and you can read more about these here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/double-object-verbs

 

Suggest is a tricky case. You are right that I suggested her a solution is not correct, while I suggested to her a solution is fine (though I suggested a solution to her is the more common word order). Here, I'm afraid, we simply come back to the arbitrary nature of such patterns. They must be memorised rather than being worked out from an overarching rule.

Suggest is an unusual case, thought not unique – propose works in the same way. Offer can be used with either pattern:

I offered her a solution / I offered a solution to her

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 22/01/2020 - 18:42

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Hello. I wanted to advise my friend but I got confused about which form I should use after "try". Could you help me? - Why don’t you try to drink less coffee if you want to be healthier? - Why don’t you try drinking less coffee if you want to be healthier? Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Oops! It seems we missed this question until now.

The correct sentence is the -ing verb form. Actually, both forms are grammatically correct, but they have different meanings.

  • try + -ing (try drinking): this presents the action (drinking) as the solution to a problem. You are asking someone to do this, in order to see whether it solves the problem (or not).
  • try + to + infinitive (try to drink): this emphasises the difficulty of the action (drink), and that the person needs to make a strong effort to do it. It suggests the person may not be capable of doing the action.

 

Does that make sense? You can find more examples on this page about verbs followed by -ing or to + infinitive.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Fri, 22/11/2019 - 19:44

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Hello dear team, (I like them to trust me; that I am there for them.) Is this sentence true? Thank you.

Hello Hosseinpour,

It's hard to be sure without knowing the full context, but I think the sentence you are looking for is probably as follows:

I hope that they trust me and understand that I am there for them.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 15/10/2019 - 08:42

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Hello. Could you please help me? What is the difference between the two forms John was left to dream about his new life as a teacher. John was left dreaming about his new life as a teacher. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

When we say leave somebody to do something there can be two meanings:

I left John to clean up

1. I went away so that John could clean up.

2. I went away because I needed to clean up.

When passive voice is used, as in your example, only the first meaning is possible.

 

When we say leave somebody doing something it means that we went away while they continue with the action:

I left John cleaning up.

When I went away, John was cleaning up.

Your sentence could have this meaning.

 

However, remember that language draws meaning from the context in which it is used, as well as from its own structures and forms. These sentences would like have more meaning in context, such as telling us something about whether or not John's dreams were real or some kind of delusion, for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Goktug123 on Tue, 21/05/2019 - 14:35

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Hello Team! I have a quesiton. Is this a sentence? "Class 3000 to be used with schedule 80 pipes" I think "to be used with schedule 80 pipes" describes "class 3000".So its an adjective. But there is no verb here.And this is not a complete sentence.Can we use this as if it was a sentence?For example,when we describe a table. Thank you!
Hello Goktug123 You're right in thinking that that is not a complete sentence. What I understand it to mean is: 'Class 3000 *is* to be used with schedule 80 pipes'. Words are often left out when there's not much space and the meaning is thought to be clear. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 18/05/2019 - 20:06

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Hello, every one. My bother asked me where my sister was. When I wanted to answer him, I got confused about the rule to use after "try". Here is my answer: I don't know where she is. Try (to call / calling) her on her phone. Thank you .
Hello Ahmed Imam, 'Try' is an example of a verb which can be followed by either 'to + verb' or 'verb-ing'. However, there is a difference in meaning. > try + verb-ing = do something to see if it is a good idea: I tried taking the medicine, but it didn't help. > try + to verb = attempt something which is difficult or not possible: I tried to phone him, but there was no answer. ~ In your example, both forms would be correct: Try calling her (maybe this will help) Try to call her (maybe you will succeed in contacting her) ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rosario70 on Wed, 03/04/2019 - 12:31

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Hi teachers, i have a little doubt over these following sentences: 1) I realize that there is a lot of money to be made; 2) There is a moral to be learned.If i were to write them in this different way ( I realize that there is a lot of money to make; 2) There is a moral to learn) they'd come to the same meaning. Thanks in advance.
Hello rosario70 Native speakers would understand both of the sentences with active infinitives to mean what the sentences with the passive infinitives mean, but I doubt a native speaker would intentionally use them. In other words, I'd recommend 'a lot of money to be made' and 'a moral to be learned' and not the other forms. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 29/03/2019 - 21:04

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Hi. Is "admit doing" completely equal to "admit to doing" or there is a difference? Thank you
Hi Ahmed Imam, As far as I am aware there is no difference. The form without 'to' is more common, I would say. Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Goktug123 on Mon, 25/02/2019 - 13:42

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Hello team! I have a question. Do these two sentences have same meaning? "Bravery is not to be afraid of being afraid" "Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid" Thank you.

Hello Goktug123

Yes, I'd say them mean the same thing.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team