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Unit 70 Infinitives

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Main points

* Some verbs are followed by a `to’-infinitive clause. Others are followed by an object and a `to’-infinitive clause.

* Some verbs are followed by a `wh’-word and a `to’-infinitive clause. Others are followed by an object, a `wh’-word, and a `to’-infinitive clause.

* Nouns are followed by `to’-infinitive clauses that indicate the aim, purpose or necessity of something, or that give extra information.

1 Some verbs are followed by a `to’-infinitive clause. The subject of the verb is also the subject of the `to’-infinitive clause.

* verbs of saying and thinking

agreeexpectlearnplan
choosehopemeanpromise
decideintendofferrefuse

She had agreed to let us use her flat.
I decided not to go out for the evening.

* other verbs

failmanagepretendtendwant

England failed to win a place in the finals.

2 Some verbs are followed by an object and a `to’-infinitive clause. The object of the verb is the subject of the `to’-infinitive clause.

* verbs of saying and thinking

adviseencourageinvitepersuadeteach
askexpectorderremindtell

I asked her to explain.
They advised us not to wait around too long.

* other verbs

allowforcegethelpwant

I could get someone else to do it.
I didn’t want him to go.

Note that `help’ can also be followed by an object and a base form.
I helped him fix it.

WARNING: You do not use `want’ with a `that’-clause. You do not say `I want that you do something’.

3 Some verbs are followed by `for’ and an object, then a `to’-infinitive clause. The object of `for’ is the subject of the `to’-infinitive clause.

appealaskpaywish
arrangelongwait

Could you arrange for a taxi to collect us?
I waited for him to speak.

4 Some link verbs, and `pretend’ are followed by `to be’ and an `-ing’ form for continuing actions, and by `to have’ and a past participle for finished actions. See also Unit 73.
We pretended to be looking inside.
I don’t appear to have written down his name.

5 Some verbs are normally used in the passive when they are followed by a `to’-infinitive clause.

believe, consider, feel, find, know, report, say, think, understand

He is said to have died a natural death.
Is it thought to be a good thing?

6 Some verbs are followed by a `wh’-word and a `to’-infinitive clause. These include:

askexplainimaginelearnunderstand
decideforgetknowrememberwonder

I didn’t know what to call him.
She had forgotten how to ride a bicycle.

Some verbs are followed by an object, then a `wh’-word and a `to’-infinitive clause.

askremindshowteachtell

I asked him what to do.
Who will show him how to use it?

Some verbs only take `to’-infinitive clauses to express purpose.
See Unit 97.

The captain stopped to reload the gun.
He went to get some fresh milk.

7 You use a `to’-infinitive clause after a noun to indicate the aim of an action or the purpose of a physical object.
We arranged a meeting to discuss the new rules.
He had nothing to write with.

You also use a `to’-infinitive clause after a noun to say that something needs to be done.
I gave him several things to mend.
`What’s this?’ – `A list of things to remember.’

8 You use a `to’-infinitive clause after a noun group that includes an ordinal number, a superlative, or a word like `next’, `last’, or `only’.
She was the first woman to be elected to the council.
Mr Holmes was the oldest person to be chosen.
The only person to speak was James.

9 You use a `to’-infinitive clause after abstract nouns to give more specific information about them.
All it takes is a willingness to learn.
He’d lost the ability to communicate with people.

The following abstract nouns are often followed by a `to’-infinitive clause:

ability, attempt, chance, desire, failure, inability, need, opportunity, unwillingness, willingness

Note that the verbs or adjectives which are related to these nouns can also be followed by a `to’-infinitive clause. For example, you can say `I attempted to find them’, and `He was willing to learn’.
See Unit 95 for information on nouns that are related to reporting verbs and can be followed by a `to’-infinitive clause.

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