Choosing between full infinitives, bare infinitives, and gerunds

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Part II

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LAST week, in answer to a question from English teacher Farhad H., in Iran, I started laying out the basis for why the full infinitive “to take” is the correct answer choice in this test statement: “Peter, you have been working so hard this year. I am sure you must be tired. My suggestion for you is (take, to take, taking) some time off.”

After a quick review of full infinitives, bare infinitives, and gerunds as verbals or words that combine the characteristics of a verb and a noun, I presented four general rules for choosing between infinitives and gerunds so they can work properly in particular sentence constructions (tinyurl.com/hewcydq). This time I’ll focus on the choice between full infinitives and bare infinitives when used as subject, object, or complement of a sentence.

There are really no hard-and-fast rules for choosing the full infinitive or the bare infinitive.

While the primary determinant for the choice is the operative verb and syntax of the sentence, we’ll only find out which of the two infinitive forms works—or at least works better—by first using the full infinitive as default. When it doesn’t work, use the bare infinitive.

The full infinitive is, of course, the only choice when it’s the subject of the sentence, as in “To give up isn’t an option at this time.” The bare infinitive form won’t work as it reduces the full infinitive to a verb phrase: “Give up isn’t an option at this time.” (Take note though that the gerund form, “giving up,” works as well in this case: “Giving up isn’t an option at this time.”)

Now let’s take a look at particular grammatical and syntax situations when using the bare infinitive becomes a must:

1. Use the bare infinitive or bare infinitive phrase when it is preceded by the adverbs “rather,” “better,” and “had better” or by the prepositions “except,” “but,” “save” (in the sense of “except”), and “than.” Examples: “She would rather stay single than marry that obnoxious suitor.” “With her deceitful ways, you had better reject her overtures to team up with you.” “They did everything except beg.” (Faulty-sounding with the full infinitive: “She would rather to stay single than to marry that obnoxious suitor.” “With her deceitful ways, you had better to reject her overtures to team up with you.” “They did everything except to beg.”

2. The verb auxiliaries “shall,” “should,” “will,” “would,” “may,” “might,” “can,” “could,” and “must” should always be followed by a bare infinitive: “I shall fire those scalawags.” “We might visit next week.” “You must investigate right away.” (Faulty with the full infinitive: “I shall to fire those scalawags.” “We might to visit next week.” “You must to investigate right away.”)

3. The object complement should be a bare infinitive when the operative verb followed by an object is a perception verb like “see,” “feel,” “hear,” or “watch”: “She watched him do the job and saw him do it well.” “We heard him castigate an erring general.” (Faulty with the full infinitive: “She watched him to do the job and saw him to do it well.” “We heard him to castigate an erring general.”)

4. The object complement should be a bare infinitive when the operative verb is the helping verb “make” or “let”: “She always makes me feel loved.” (Faulty with the full infinitive: “She always makes me to feel loved.”) However, the helping verb “help” itself can take either a full infinitive or a bare infinitive as object complement. Formal-sounding with the full infinitive: “She helped them to mount the rebellion.” Relaxed, informal-sounding with the bare infinitive: “She helped them mount the rebellion.”

Again, as a rule, use the full infinitive first to see if the sentence will work properly and sound right. Otherwise, use the bare infinitive.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo. E-mail: j8carillo@yahoo.com

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