Infinitive as Subject

Refer to activities, quotes and definitions

Shakespeare

"To be, or not to be,
that is the question."
 

An Infinitive vs. A Gerund Subject

SUBJECT—INFINITIVE  CLAUSE

An infinitive functioning as the subject of a clause refers to an activity in a general rather than a specific way.  The infinitive, a reduced verbal form, is not marked for tense or person and does not commonly have a subject. When in the subject position, it is usually followed by be or a stative verb.   An infinitive is less commonly used to begin a sentence than a gerund with the exception of dictionary definitions and quotes.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT
INFINITIVE CLAUSE V ADJ / NP

1a.To start a sentence with an infinitive
(existing)

sounds

awkward.

 

2a. To speak five languages well
(prediction)

is

may be

an advantage.

3a.To be around her all day

¹becomes

would be

tiring.

SUBJECT - GERUND  CLAUSE

A gerund or gerund clause is more commonly used at the beginning of a sentence than an infinitive or infinitive clause. In most cases, gerunds or infinitives functioning as subjects are interchangeable. Sometimes, a slight difference in meaning exists. The infinitive may suggest a future, predicted or imagined activity while a gerund suggests an ongoing, existing, habitual activity.  See 2a. v. 2b. or 3a. v. 3b.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT
GERUND CLAUSE V ADJ / NP

1b.Starting a sentence with a gerund 
(existing)

sounds

fine.

 

2b. Speaking five languages well 
(existing)

is

may be

an advantage.

3b. Being around her all day

becomes

is

tiring.

 

Functions: Subject – the causer or doer of the action ; Predicate – the action; COMP – complement:  elements required by the verb to complete its meaning (direct object, indirect object, or predicative complement) ;  ADJUNCT: elements not required by the verb (adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, clauses)

Categories: NP – noun phrase; V – verb; Adj – adjective;INF – infiniitve: GER – gerund; Nonfinite: an infinitive or gerund clause

 

¹ To be  (imagined situation) sounds awkward with becomes.(existing, changing).

See states of being or emotion. List

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infinitive Clause

It as the subject placeholder

 

 

 

Initial vs. Final Placement with "It"

AN INFINITVE CLAUSE AS SUBJECT

An infinitive or an infinitive clause can be the subject of the clause; however, speakers tend to prefer to put longer content toward the end of the sentence. The sentences below sound awkward and are usually reworded with it.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMPLEMENT
INFIN CLS V ADJ / NP

To travel   

 is   

exciting.   (adjective) 

To explore the Web

 is   

entertaining. (adjective) 

To speak five languages well

would be 

ideal.

To be around her all day

becomes  

tiring.

To travel to New York

takes  

four hours.
 

IT + BE (ADJ)  TO

Placing It at the beginning of the sentence allows us to move the "heavier content" to the end of the sentence.  It, a "dummy pronoun" which has no particular meaning, serves as the subject placeholder for the content that has been displaced at the end of the clause.

SUBJECT PRED + COMP DISPLACED SUBJECT
PRN V + ADJ INFIN CLS

It     

is   exciting

to travel.  

It     

is   entertaining

to explore the Web.    

It

would be ideal

to speak five languages well.

It

is tiring

to be around her all day.

It

takes (four hours)¹

to travel to New York.

 

It as the subject places emphasis on the content immediately following: the speaker's opinion: exciting, entertaining, ideal, tiring, etc.
¹ Also see  "It takes" + Infinitive.

DETdeterminer (ART– article / PRN – pronoun)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infinitive Clause

Including a subject with a nonfinite clause

 

 

 

Initial vs. Final Placement

BEGINNING THE CLAUSE

The subject of an infinitive clause is expressed as [for + noun] (accusative pronoun). The person mentioned after the subordinator for is the "doer" of the activity in the infinitive clause.

SUBJECT PRED + COMP
PP + INFIN CLS V + ADJ

For us to travel   

 is   exciting.   (adjective) 

For them to browse the Web

 is   entertaining. (adjective) 

For me to speak five languages well.

would be  ideal.

For him to be around her all day.

becomes  tiring.

For Edward to commute to New York  

takes  three hours.

ENDING THE CLAUSE

More commonly, the infinitive clause (and its subject) is moved to the end of the clause. The pronoun It is the placeholder for the displaced clause.

IT + PRED + COMP DISPLACED SUBJECT
PRN + PRED + COMP PP + INFIN CLS

It is exciting

for us to travel.  

It is entertaining

for them to browse the Web.    

It would be ideal

for me to speak five languages well.

It is tiring

for him to be around her all day.

It takes three hours

for Edward to commune to New York.

 

The subject of an infinitive clause is expressed as [for + noun] (accusative pronoun).  Also see (Huddleston 1178)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Initial Infinitive Uses

Quotes and Definitions

 

 

 

Infinitives in quotes and definitions

QUOTES

Infinitives are commonly used in quotes.

To know you is to love you.

To try and fail is better than to have never tried at all.

To doubt is intensely engrossing.

To be on the alert is to live.

To be lulled into security is to die. —Oscar Wilde

To understand one woman is not necessarily to understand any other woman.

 

DEFINITIONS

Infinitives are commonly used in dictionary definitions.  This is believed to date back to a time when grammarians likened the English infinitive (to + base form) to Latin and French language infinitives (one inflected word). 

KNOW

1. To perceive directly; grasp in the mind with clarity or certainty. 2. To regard as true beyond doubt: "I know she won't fail." 3. To have a practical understanding of, as through experience; be skilled in: "knows how to cook." 4. To have fixed in the mind: "knows her Latin verbs." 5. To have experience of: "a black stubble that had known no razor"-- ;William Faulkner 6. To be acquainted with: "He doesn't know his neighbors." 7. To be able to distinguish; recognize as distinct: "knows right from wrong." 8. To discern the character or nature of: "knew him for a liar." 9. Archaic To have sexual intercourse with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

TRADITIONAL DESCRIPTION LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

In traditional grammar, the infinitive is described as a verbal-noun.  The infinitive form is  to + verb. In formal usage, one never spits an infinitive, nor does one leave "to" at the end of a sentence — an issue with this two-word verbal form. This origin of this description dates back to a time when grammarians likened English verbs to French and Latin verbs. 

To the Infinitival Marker   "Traditional grammar treats [to give] as a form of of the lexeme give, as if it were an inflectional prefix, comparable to the inflectional suffix that marks the infinitive in such languages as Latin and French.  This is quite inappropriate for English.  The evidence [below right

] shows that to is not syntactically in construction with the verb base, let alone morphologically bound to it." (Huddleston 1183-4)

Also see Azar 14-6.

In current grammar, the infinitive is the "plain form" (base verb form).  The subordinator to often, but not always, occurs with the plain form, with some exceptions being: dare, need, help, can, may, will, should, would, etc.

In modern linguistics, the particle to is described as a subordinator.  The infinitive includes to + "plain form"  (base verb form).  "It is important  that to enters into construction with a VP [verb phrase] not just a verb."(Huddleston 1183-7) Also see the note on "Split-infinitives".  (There's nothing to split!)  

Also see  Huddleston and Pullum's "A  Student's Introduction to English Grammar" p. 31 – 37; 206, 212; Swan 279-281; Biber 9.4, Huddleston 14 §1.4.

REED-KELLOG SYSTEM TREE DIAGRAM

traditional diagram: To start a sentence with an infinitive is uncommon

Click the diagram to enlarge it.

tree diagram

  Detailed diagram
 

Grammatical Functions: Subject – (Subj) the agent of the action; Predicate/Predicator – (Pred) the action or change in state; Complement – Comp  –  an element required to complete the subject and verb; Adjunct – an element not required by the verb, a modifying word, phrase, clause; Supplement – a comment in the form of a word, phrase or clause that is loosely related to the central idea of the sentence.

Lexical Categories "Parts of Speech": N – noun / pronoun; NP – noun phrase; V – verb; VP – verb phrase; Adj – adjective; AdjP – adjective phrase; Adv – adverb; AdvP – adverb phrase; P – preposition; PP – prepositional phrase; Det – determiners –  noun markers (e.g., articles, quantifiers, demonstratives, possessives); Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator; Interj – interjection; INF – infiniitve: GER – gerund; Nonfinite: an infinitive or gerund clause

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Sayings and Quotes

 

 

Decide whether the quote can be restated with gerunds.

  1. Edit the sentence.. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 1-12" button.

 

1.
INF: To live is to learn.


2.
INF: To know is to care.


3.
INF:   To know what we know and to know what we do not know – that is understanding.


4.
INF:   To see is to believe.


5.
INF:  To think something does not cause as much trouble as to say something.


6.
INF:    To be successful in love, one must know how to begin and when to stop.


7.
INF:  To give lip service to someone requires little effort.


8.
INF:   To know all is to forgive all.


9.
INF:   To stumble once is better than to always be tottering.


10.
INF:   To forgive is heavenly, to forget is divine.


11.
INF:   To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.


12.
INF:   To worry is a waste of time.


 

lip service (n.) – to say what others want to hear
stumble (v.) – lose one's balance and fall
tottering (adj.) – being about to fall; being unsteady on one's feet
divine (adj.) – coming from or relating to God or a god

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Muhammad Ali at Age 70

Muhammad AliMohammad Ali
 

 

Read for Errors

To say that he was a giant among men would not be an exaggeration. The former heavyweight champion, Muhammed Ali, is still one of the most revered figures on Earth, inspiring passionate feelings more than 30 years after his final appearance in the boxing ring, and more than 50 years after winning an Olympic gold medal.   To hear him speak was entertaining.  To watch his lightening fast punches and nimble foot work was a sight to behold.  To see him fight the effects of Parkinson's disease is inspiring.

The disease has muted his voice and causes him to move slowly. It is difficult for him to perform simple acts because of the tremors. His days are spent mostly in a chair. His once-dazzling smile is just a memory.  And yet, he remains a hero to many, still an inspirational icon. Muhammad Ali means different things to different people, though he's a towering figure to nearly all. "Muhammad Ali is the proof that once there were giants in this land," declared former heavyweight champion George Foreman.

a sight to behold – an unforgettable experience

effects (n.) – results, symptoms of the disease

exaggeration (n.) – state that something is bigger or grander than it truly is

muted – quieted

nimble – quick, graceful, agile

revered (adj.) – highly regarded

tremors (n.) – shaking

towering (adj.) – tall, high, large

 

 

 

Answer the questions regarding wording (phrasing).

  1. Select your response.
  2. Read the feedback.

 

13.
What is a good reason for beginning the paragraph with an infinitive?
→  To say that he was a giant among men would not be an exaggeration.






14.
Which wording is a good choice for the paragraph above?






15.
Which  wording is best for the paragraph above.




16.
Who is the subject, person doing the action, in this sentence?
→  To say that he was a giant among men would not be an exaggeration.