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Infinitive Verb Form: Definition & Examples

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Instructor
Debbie Notari

Debbie Notari received her Bachelor’s degree in English and M.S. in Education Literacy and Learning for Grades 6-12. Debbie has over 28 years of teaching experience, teaching a variety of grades for courses like English, Reading, Music, and more.

Expert Contributor
Amy Fredrickson

Amy has taught and tutored college-level English; she has a master's degree from Colorado State University in rhetoric and composition.

In this lesson, we will learn about the infinitive, the basic building block of the verb in the English language. After learning about this you can test your knowledge with a quiz. Updated: 09/09/2020

Definition of the Infinitive Verb Form

When we use the word 'to' before a verb in a sentence, we are using the infinitive verb form. However, what can be confusing is that the infinitive phrase -- 'to' plus a verb -- does not act like a verb at all but rather takes on the role of a noun, adjective or adverb in a sentence. For example, we have this famous sentence from Hamlet: 'To be or not to be: that is the question.'

The phrase 'to be' is acting as the subject of the sentence. It is as if the verb phrase puts on the costume of a noun, adjective or adverb and plays the role of a part of speech other than itself.

Any verb that is preceded by the word 'to' is an infinitive. Here are some examples: 'to love, to eat, to run, to believe, to follow, to laugh, to stare, to wonder.'

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  • 0:02 The Infinitive Verb Form
  • 0:58 As Nouns
  • 1:27 As Adjectives
  • 1:57 As Adverbs
  • 2:30 Problems to Avoid
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Infinitives as Nouns

Here are some examples of infinitives that are used as nouns in sentences:

'To run a marathon was Amelia's greatest dream.' Here, the phrase 'to run' is used as the subject of the sentence.

'Monica wanted to score five goals in the soccer game.' In this sentence, 'to score' acts as a direct object. Remember that direct objects are nouns; they can answer the question 'who' or 'what' and receive the action of the subject.

Infinitives as Adjectives

Now, we will take a look at how infinitives can be used as adjectives in sentences. Take a look at these examples:

'Terrence lacked the motivation to succeed.' In this sentence, the phrase 'to succeed' modifies the noun 'motivation' and takes the role of an adjective.

'Paco disagreed with Molly's penchant to interrupt people when they were speaking.' The phrase 'to interrupt' gives us more information about or modifies the noun 'penchant.'

Infinitives as Adverbs

Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs in sentences. Here are some ways infinitives can be used as adverbs:

'Jimmy must wait to hear the results of the race.' In this sentence, the infinitive phrase 'to hear' modifies the verb 'wait.' Therefore, it's a good example of how an infinitive can be used as an adverb.

Take a look at another sentence: 'It's good to know how to put out a fire.' The word 'good' is an adjective, and 'to know' modifies it; thus, it's an adverb.

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Additional Activities

Infinitive Verb Form: Activities

The below activities are designed to help students continue to learn about infinitive verbs and their grammatical functions.

Identifying Infinitive Verbs

In the paragraph below underline every infinitive verb used. Then, determine what part of speech the infinitive verb is functioning as (i.e. a noun, an adjectives, or an adverb). Once you have determined the latter, write the part of speech above the infinitive.

  • To explain complex math problem was Ms. Henderson's greatest delight. In fact, Ms. Henderson solved complex math problems outside of class to help NASA scientists. I like to wait after class to talk with Ms. Henderson—her stories about working with NASA are fascinating! Also, spending time with Ms. Henderson is a great way to practice my math.

Answer Key:

  • To explain: noun (subject)
  • to help: adverb (describes the verb solved: why did Ms. Henderson solve math problems outside of class?")
  • to wait: noun (direct object)
  • to talk: adverb (describes the verb like: why do I like to wait after class?)
  • to practice: adjective (describes the noun ''way'')

Writing Infinitive Verbs

Write a short story of at least 250 words about a time you were surprised. In your writing, include at least three infinitive verbs. At least one infinitive verb should function as a noun; at least one should function as an adjective, and at least one should function as an adverb. Underline each infinitive verb you include and indicate its part of speech above the infinitive.

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