Infinitives in English: 3 functions of infinitives

Hello, learners! This lesson helps you understand and master everything about infinitives in English.

infinitive in English

What is an infinitive in English?

Infinitive definition: an infinitive is TO + V1 of a verb that functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb. Ex – to eat, to run, to love, to help, to sleep, to dance, to smoke, etc.

It is called a non-finite verb as it does not change according to the subject and the tense.

There are 3 types of non-finite verbs in English:

  1. Gerunds
  2. Infinitives
  3. Participles


  • To run daily improves your cardio.
  • To rest is the only thing I want right now.
  • I just want to sleep.
  • One of my talents is to mimic people.
  • The person to contact is Max.
  • He bought the car to sell it.

In the first four examples, the infinitives function as nouns. In the fifth, it is working as an adjective, and in the sixth one, it is working as an adverb.

NOTE: Negative infinitives are formed by using NOT before them.

  • We decided not to go there.
  • She asked me not to share it with anyone.
  • Not to contact him was the right decision.
  • Try not to eat the food.

Functions of an infinitive

An Infinitive performs the following functions in a sentence:

  1. Nouns
  2. Adjectives
  3. Adverbs

1. Infinitive as a noun

When an infinitive works as a noun in a sentence, it can take the following positions:

  1. The subject of the sentence
  2. The object of a verb
  3. The subject complement

Examples of infinitives as subjects

  • To see her daily is a privilege.
  • To dance is my passion.
  • To have a supportive family is a blessing.
  • To kill people in the name of a god is preposterous.

If an infinitive is followed by an object or a modifier, the entire expression is called an infinitive phrase. In these examples, all the subjects are infinitive phrases, except the second. The second one is an infinitive, not an infinitive phrase.

NOTE: Infinitives are rarely used as the subject of a sentence. Gerunds or gerund phrases are more common as the subject of a sentence.

  • Seeing her daily is a privilege.
  • Dancing is my passion.
  • Having a supportive family is a blessing.
  • Killing people in the name of a god is preposterous.

Examples of infinitives as objects

  • Nobody likes to work with a liar.
  • We are planning to buy a new house.
  • They refused to work with him.
  • God! I forgot to bring money.
  • You failed to impress me.
  • She was pretending to be fine.
  • The company is trying to connect with me.
  • Ashu is learning to swim.

Verbs that are generally followed by infinitives:

  • plan
  • refuse
  • like
  • hate
  • pretend
  • forget
  • try
  • remember
  • intend
  • learn
  • fail
  • hope

A list of verbs that are followed by an object and an infinitive

A list of verbs followed by a noun/pronoun and an infinitive


  • I told her to shut up.
  • We want everyone to be safe.
  • The doctors advised Jon to take some rest.
  • They won’t allow you to sit there.
  • She asked me to say sorry to her father.
  • Command your boys to move forward.
  • You can’t convince me to eat meat.
  • They are expecting her to take over the business.
  • This will enable us to fight the virus.
  • Your sister chose me to be her date.
  • My manager has been forcing me to quit the job.
  • I am warning you to not eat that.
  • My father taught me to respect everyone.
  • She needs you to be there for her.

Note that the infinitive comes after the indirect object (noun/pronoun) here. Also, the verb warn is often followed by an object and a negative infinitive.

Everyone warned you not to go there.

Examples of infinitives as subject complements

Subject complement definition: a word or a group of words that renames or describes the subject is called the subject complement. A noun renames (gives a new name) the subject, and an adjective modifies it.


  • Her favorite hobby is to sing. (To sing is referring to her favorite hobby)
  • The goal of our organization is to educate the poor.
  • My advice would be to call him.
  • What I have been trying to do for years is to open a school.

2. Infinitive as an adjective

An infinitive or an infinitive phrase can work as an adjective in a sentence. When it works as an adjective in a sentence, it comes right next to the noun or the pronoun it modifies.

Examples of infinitives as adjectives

  • The person to blame is me. (which person = to blame)
  • The right thing to do is to call the police.
  • Do you need anything to eat?
  • Are you looking for someone to change your life?

Structure: Subject + linking verb + noun phrase + infinitive/infinitive phrase

  • It is a great company to be a part of.
  • That was an amazing place to visit.
  • You are a good person to work with.
  • He has a great opportunity to learn digital marketing from the best.
  • Mohan is not the right person to call for this job.
  • She is not a girl to leave.
Subjectlinking verbnoun phraseinfinitiveobject/modifier(optional)
It is a great opportunityto start the business
You arethe best personto teachus English
That was an amazing filmto watchwith my family.
These will not beright peopleto work with
Infinitives after a noun phrase

3. Infinitive as an adverb

An infinitive or an infinitive phrase also works as an adverb. As an adverb, it modifies a verb. Look at the following examples:

I went there to help you.

The infinitive phrase “to help you” modifies the verb ‘went’ and tells us the reason why it happened. Why did I go there? I went there in order to help you.

  • Max is working very hard to earn more money.
  • She called me last night to ask for a favor.
  • We have booked a car to go on the trip.
  • Whenever I get angry, I do meditation to control my anger.

As an adverb, infinitives tell us the reason or the purpose of an action. 

NOTE: an infinitive also modifies an adjective in a sentence and functions as an adverb. Here’s the structure when it modifies an adjective in a sentence:

Structure: Subject + linking verb + adjective + infinitive/infinitive phrase

  • It is important to sleep properly.
    (modifying the adjective properly)
  • We are pleased to work with you.
    (telling us the reason for the adjective)
  • It was awesome to be on the stage.
    (telling us the reason for the adjective)
  •  Everyone is sad to hear about your loss.
    (telling us the reason for the adjective)
  • Jane was shocked to clear the interview.
    (telling us the reason for the adjective)

Bare infinitives in English

We just figured out what infinitives are. Now, what does this bare infinitive mean? Well, it is not something very different from a regular infinitive.

A bare infinitive, also known as a zero infinitive, is an infinitive that does not have the particle ‘to’ in it. Bare infinitives are used after certain verbs: make, let, see, hear, watch, help, etc.


  • I made him take the test.
    (Here, take is the bare infinitive, and take the test is the bare infinitive phrase.)
  • My father does not let me smoke.
  • Did anyone watch us steal the money?
  • She did not hear us talk about the crime.
  • I helped you win the match.

NOTE: these verbs are followed by an object first. Infinitives come after the objects of these verbs.

Bare infinitives are also used after had better, better, and would rather.

  • You had better start working on your health.
  • I would rather kill myself.
  • We better do something about the violence happening on campus.

Bare infinitives are also used after modal auxiliary verbs: can, could, may, might, should, would, will, shall, must, etc.

  • You should listen to the people who are successful at what they do.
  • Jon must work on his communication skills.
  • I can beat anyone in a street fight.


Are there different types of infinitives?

What is an infinitive?

An infinitive is a form of a verb that works as a noun, adjective, or adverb. It often precedes the particle ‘to‘. Examples: to work, to dance, to study, etc. It has 4 forms: 1) simple infinitive 2) continuous infinitive 3) perfect infinitive 4) perfect continuous infinitive

Are there different types of infinitives?

Yes. There are 4 types of infinitives in English:
1) Simple infinitive (Ex – I want to help you.)
2) Continuous infinitive (Ex – He seems to be sleeping.)
3) Perfect infinitive (Ex – He seems to have slept.)
4) Perfect continuous infinitive (Ex – He seems to have been doing this for a long time.)

How do you identify infinitives?

Infinitives work as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. They can be identified easily once we get to familiarize ourselves with their structures. Once we understand the structures, we just have to see if they work as a noun, adjective, or adverb in a sentence.

Why do we use infinitives?

Some nouns can’t be expressed in regular noun forms. They are formed using a verb. Some verbs take an infinitive as their object. Hence, it becomes important to master infinitives and increase our grammatical range.

Now, we know what infinitives are in English. Feel free to share your question, doubt, or feedback in the comment section, and also, share the post with the people that need it.

For one-on-one classes, contact me at [email protected].

Different functions of infinitives

Lessons on non-finite verbs in English (YouTube videos):

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Ashish found his first love—the English language—a few years back. Since then, he has been immersed in the language, breaking down the language and teaching it to passionate English learners. He has a flair for listening to the English language (podcasts, sitcoms, stories), observing the nuances, and making it easy for English learners. He is known for breaking down complex English topics and making them easy to be understood.

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