To be or Not To Be: That Is the Infinitive

How to recognize and use infinitives in English

Our title reflects one of the most famous uses of an infinitive, "To be or not to be, that is the question," a line in Hamlet, an English play written by William Shakespeare.

Our topic is infinitives-- both with and without “to."

In most cases infinitives begin with to followed by the simple form of a verb:

Infinitive = To + Verb

Example: to eat

Infinitives are not verbs. Infinitives function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.


To eat is all I want on Thanksgiving Day.

Also acceptable: Eat is all I want to do on Thanksgiving Day.

"To eat" is the subject of the verb want.

The man wants to eat.

"to eat" is the direct object of the verb "wants."

"to eat" tells us what the man wants to do.


I always bring something to eat.

“To eat” modifies the direct object something by describing what it (something) is.


I always bring a sandwich to eat.

“to eat” explains why I bring a sandwich. "to eat" modifies the verb bring.


There are a few “special” verbs which don’t use “to” in their infinitive forms: feel, hear, help, let, see, and watch

An infinitive which is (1) proceeded by a direct object (2) preceded by one of the special verbs does not need “to."

Special Verb + Direct Object + Simple Verb (without “to”)

She heard the bell ring.

I will help her read.

She watches the sun go down car every evening.

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