The infinitive is the base of a verb. They usually refer to the present infinitive, which is most common. There are four other forms of infinitives – the perfect infinitive, perfect continuous infinitive, continuous infinitive, and the passive infinitive. For instance;
To err is human.
She refused to obey the orders.
Many men desire to make money quickly.
It will be seen that the infinitive is a kind of noun with certain features of the verb, especially that of taking an object (when the verb is transitive) and adverbial qualifiers. In short, the infinitive is a Verb-Noun.
The word to is frequently used with the infinitive, but is not an essential part or sign of it. Thus, after certain verbs (bid, let, make, hear), we use the infinitive without ‘to’. For instance, in the following statements;
I saw her do it.
Let her sit here.
I made him run.
I bade her go.
The infinitive without ‘to’ is also used after the verbs ‘will, would, should, shall, might, may, could, can and must’. Consider the following examples;
She will pay the bill.
He should work harder.
You must come to the office at nine tomorrow.
Uses of Infinitives:
The infinitives may be used like a noun, with or without adjuncts in the following cases, it is known as simple infinitive:
1. As the subject of a verb in a sentence. For instance;
To find fault is easy.
To err is human.
2. As the complement of a verb, the infinitive can be used. For instance;
His greatest pleasure is to sing.
Her custom is to ride daily.
3. As the object of a transitive verb. Such as;
I do not mean to read.
She likes to play cards.
4. As the object of a preposition, the infinitives are used. For example;
She had no choice but to obey. (here, but means ‘except’)
The speaker is about to begin.
5. As an objective complement, infinitives are used. For instance in the following sentence;
She saw him go.
When the infinitive is used in following ways, it is known as the Gerundial or Qualifying Infinitive:
1. To qualify a verb, usually to express a purpose. Such as in the following examples;
She called to see my brother. (means for the purpose of seeing my brother).
I come to bury Caesar.(indicates the purpose).
2. To qualify an Adjective, as indicated in the following examples;
Prunes are good to eat.
The girls are anxious to learn.
3. To qualify a sentence, infinitives are used, as shown in examples below;
To tell the truth, I quite forgot my promise.
She was petrified, so to speak.
4. To qualify a noun, infinitives are used in following manner;
She is a woman to be admired.
You will have cause to repent.
The infinitives can be active or passive. When infinitive is used as active, it may have a present and a perfect form. And may merely name the act, or represent continued action. For instance;
- Present : ‘to love’
- Perfect: ‘to have loved’
- Present Continuous: ‘to be loving’
- Perfect Continuous: ‘to have been loving’
As Passive, the infinitives have a present ans a perfect form only. For example;
- Present: ‘to be loved’
- Perfect: ‘ to have been loved’