Infinitive phrase definition: An infinitive phrase is a group of words that begins with an infinitive and functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb.
What is an Infinitive Phrase?
An infinitive is the form of a verb before it is conjugated.
- Infinitive example: to swim
An infinitive phrase is a group of words that starts with the infinitive.
- Infinitive phrase example: to swim in the pool
An infinitive phrase can function as a noun, adjective, or adverb.
Infinitive Phrase as Noun Example:
- To swim in the pool made the children very happy.
In this sentence, the infinitive phrase functions as a noun and the subject. It is doing the action, to make.
Functions of Infinitive Phrases
Infinitive Phrase as Noun
When an infinitive phrase acts as a noun, it can take the place of any noun in a sentence. That is, it can be the subject, but it can also be the object.
Noun Subject Example:
- To eat ice cream for dessert would be wonderful.
- In this example, the infinitive phrase functions as subject doing the action of the sentence.
Noun Object Example:
- I would love to eat ice cream for dessert.
- In this example, the infinitive phrase functions as the object, the thing that the subject does.
Infinitive Phrase as Adjective
When an infinitive phrase acts as an adjectives, they must modify nouns.
- To know Mr. Smith, you have to spend quality time with him.
- In this example, the infinitive phrase functions as an adjective because it modifies the noun, you.
- The best method to fix the car is to take it to the shop.
- In this example, the infinitive phrase functions as an adjective because it modifies the noun, method.
Infinitive Phrase as Adverb
When an infinitive phrase acts as an adverb, it must answer one of the following: When? Where? How? How much?
- Jason wants to be an anthropology professor to share his passion with others.
- In this example, the infinitive phrase functions as an adverb because it answers WHY Jason wants to be an anthropology professor.
- She made cookies to offer an olive branch.
- In this example, the infinitive phrase functions as an adverb because it answers WHY she made cookies.
How to Punctuate Infinitive Phrases
Different uses of an infinitive phrase require different punctuation.
When Introducing Main Clause:
When an infinitive phrase introduces the main clause, it should be followed by a comma.
- To learn Spanish well, Jeremiah studied for years.
When Interrupting Main Clause:
When an infinitive phrase interrupts the main clause it likely does not require additional punctuation.
- The best way for Jeremiah to learn Spanish well was to study for years.
When Concluding Main Clause:
When an infinitive phrase concludes the main clause, it likely does not require additional punctuation.
- Jeremiah studied for years to learn Spanish well.
What is a Split Infinitive?
Are split infinitives wrong? Splitting infinitives means that there is a word or words between the infinitive form of the verb.
Generally speaking, English grammar rules suggest that splitting infinitives is not the best way to write or speak. However, this rule is more a guideline than anything else.
Novice writers or students new to the English language should shy away from splitting infinitives. Typically, splitting infinitives is a stylistic choice that experienced writers are free to use because they understand the rules of the language.
Sometimes, splitting infinitives is acceptable because it pertains to a common phrase. In this case, the saying is more important than the grammatical structure.
Example: to boldly go where no man has gone before
Here, the adverb, boldly, splits the infinitive “to go.” This is acceptable here because this is a pop culture reference.
Summary: What are Infinitive Phrases?
Define infinitive phrase: the definition of infinitive phrase is a noun phrase with an infinitive as its head.
To sum up, an infinitive phrase,
- is a group of words
- starts with an infinitive
- can function as a noun, adjective, or adverb