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Rules for Infinitives – English Study Material & Notes

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Rules for Infinitives – English Study Material & Notes


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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;

saw her do it.

Let her sit here.

made him run.

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.

<< Read about KisanVikasPatra (KVP) here>>

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’

The Participle 

Let us study the following sentences:

Hearing the noise, the girl woke up.

The word hearing qualifies the noun ‘girl’ as an Adjective does. It is formed from the Verb Adjective, and is called a Participle. It may be called a Verbal Adjective. A participle is that form of the verb which partakes of the nature both of a verb and of an Adjective.

It must be noted that phrase ‘hearing the noise’ which is introduced by a participle, is known as participle phrase. According to its use here, it is an Adjective phrase.

Study the following examples regarding Participle:

We met a boy carrying a basket of flowers.

The child, thinking all was safe, attempted to cross the road.

He rushed into the field, and foremost fighting well.

 In the above are all examples of what is usually called the Present Participle, which ends in -ing and represents an action as going on or incomplete.

Besides the Present Participle, we can verb another Participle called its Past Particle, which represents a completed action or state of the thing being talked about. For instance;

Deceived by her friends, she lost all hope.

Time misspent is time lost.

It must be noticed here, that the Past Participle usually ends with -ed, -d, -t, -en, or -n.

Apart from these two simple participles, the Present and the Past, we have a Perfect Participle which represents an action completed in some time in past. Such as;

Having rested, we continued our journey.

In the following examples the Participles are used as simple qualifying adjectives in front of a noun, therefore this usage terms them as Participle Adjectives.

rolling stone gathers no mass.

A lying witness ought to be punished.

Therefore, Participles can be summarized as following:

1. A participle is a verbal Adjectives.

2. Like a Verb it may govern a noun or pronoun. Such as;

Hearing the noise, the girl woke up. (Here the noun ‘noise’ is governed by the participle ‘hearing’)

3. Like a Verb it may be modified by an adverb. Such as;

Loudly knocking at the gate, she demanded admission. (Here the participle ‘knocking’ is modified by the adverb ‘loudly’)

4. Like an adjective the participle may qualify a noun or pronoun. Such as;

Having rested, the women continued their journey.

5. Like an Adjective it may be compared. Such as;

Education is the most pressing need of our time. (Here the participle ‘pressing’ is compared by prefixing ‘most’)

Use of Participle:

The use of present participle forms Continuous tenses (active voice) with tenses of the verb. Such as;

  • I am loving.
  • I was loving.
  • I shall be loving.

The perfect tenses in active voice are formed from the past participle with tenses of the verb ‘have’. Such as;

  • I have loved.
  • I had loved.
  • I shall have loved.

The passive voice is formed from the Past participle with tenses of the verb be. Such as;

  • I am loved.
  • I was loved.
  • I shall be loved.

We have so far seen that Participles qualify nouns or pronouns. They may be used in following ways –

1. Participles used attributively. For instance;

lost opportunity never returns.

2. Participles used for predicatively. Consider the following instance;

The man seems worried. (Modifying the subject)

3. Participles used absolutely with a noun or pronoun going before it. For example;

The wind being favorable, they embarked on the journey.

God willing, we shall have another great monsoon season.

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