Non-finite English verb forms: Infinitive

November 7th, 20093:03 pm


Non-finite English verb forms: Infinitive

The Infinitive is the non-finite form of the verb which combines the properties of the verb with those of the noun, serving as the verbal name of a process. By virtue of its general process-naming function, the Infinitive should be considered as the head-form of the whole paradigm of the verb. In this quality it can be likened to the nominative case of the noun in languag­es with a developed noun declension. The role of the verbal paradigmatic head-form of the English Infinitive is supported by the fact that it represents the actual derivation base for all the forms of regular verbs.

The Infinitive marker to is a special formal particle analogous to other auxiliary elements in the English grammatical structure. Its only function is to build up and identify the Infinitive form as such. As is the case with the other analytical markers, the particle to can be used in an isolated position to represent the whole corresponding construction, syntagmatically zeroed in the text: Would you join us for lunch? -I’d like to.

Like other analytical markers, the particle to can be separated from its notional part, i.e. from the Infinitive, by a word or a phrase, usually of ad­verbial nature, forming the controversial split Infinitive”. As it has already been mentioned, certain grammatical schools tried to apply logic laws to natural languages. It has also been noted that Latin was considered to be “logically ideal” and was used as a model to emulate. The grammatical rea­soning went like this, “One of the most beautiful languages ever used by man was Latin.. .English should do very well if it could live up to the Latin standards”. Many pieces of English grammar came to be shaped along the lines of Latin grammar. One of the problems arising out of the trend to logi­cal correctness is the split Infinitive. Interestingly, there is no mention of the split Infinitive in the books on English written by 18th-century authors. The dispute over it started less than two hundred years ago. If we take Latin, the phrases like to run, to jump, to love – which are two words in English -would in Latin be translated by a single word. To love in Latin is amare. The reasoning was simple: you can’t split amare, and the other Infinitives, in Latin by any adverbial modifier – so you shouldn’t split to love, and other Infinitives, in English.

Up to now there is a strong resistance among some people to the phrases like to boldly proceed, to categorically reject, etc. because the split Infini­tive is considered to be the result of ignorance of language rules, deviation from the norm and logic and a lack of education in general. On the other hand, there is another trend to use and study language as it is and to recog­nise language variation.

The Infinitive with the particle to is called the marked Infinitive and presents just another case of an analytical grammatical form. The use or absence of the Infinitive marker to depends on the verbal environment of the Infinitive. Namely, the unmarked Infinitive is used, besides the various analytical forms, with modal verbs (except the modals ought and used), with verbs of physical perception, with the verbs to let, to bid, to make, to help (with the latter – optionally), with a lew verbal phrases of modal nature (had better, would rather, would have, etc.), with the relative-inducive why.

The Infinitive is a categorically changeable form. It distinguishes the three grammatical categories sharing them with the finite verb, namely, the aspectual category, the category of voice, and the category of tense. Conse­quently, the categorical paradigm of the Infinitive includes eight forms: the Simple Active and Passive, the Progressive Active, the Perfect Active and Passive, the Perfect Progressive Active.

Perhaps she ought not to stay here. (Hill)

…there was no doubt that they would be settled to her advantage… (Hill)

…she was over fifty, she should be putting money on one side herself now… (Hill)

If I’d not been there, it would never have happened. (Glanville) If you did not betray us it is impossible that you could have been be­trayed by us. (Spark)

“You ’11 have been seeing something of Miss Brodie, I hope. (Spark) The Infinitive may function

a) as subject:

To do anything else would have been flying in the face of all the best modern opinion…(Cary)

b) as predicative:

…his guiding rule in life was to play safe (Garnett)

c) as object:

I always told you to get the children back by twelve. (Bates)

d) as attribute:

Sometimes he looked towards his bride to be. who stood quietly by the side of the headmistress… (Spark)

e) as adverbial modifier:

…you might suspect that if she lifted her wings to fly she would un­cover brilliant red or purple underwings …(Garnett)

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