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infinitive

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infinitive

C.S. Lewis's observation contains two infinitive phrases--one passive ("to be understood") and the other active ("to understand").

Definition:

A verbal--often preceded by the particle to--that can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Adjective: infinitival.

Distinctions are usually made between to-infinitives and zero infinitives.

See also:

 

Etymology:

From the Latin, "infinite"
 

Examples and Observations:

  • "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
    (Mark Twain)




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  • "Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save."
    (Will Rogers)




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  • "Until the advent of television emptied the movie theaters, it was from a weekly visit to the cinema that you learned (or tried to learn) how to walk, to smoke, to kiss, to fight, to grieve."
    (Susan Sontag, "The Decay of Cinema," (1996)




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  • "A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized."
    (Fred Allen)




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  • "To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life."
    (W. Somerset Maugham, Books and You, 1940)




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  • "No one wants to hear from my armpits."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)




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  • "To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society."
    (President Theodore Roosevelt)




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  • "An enormous relief had come upon us now that the job was done. One felt an impulse to sing, to break into a run, to snigger."
    (George Orwell, "A Hanging," 1931)




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  • "We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
    (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses")




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  • Split Infinitives
    "One of the troubles with infinitives is the 7-10 split. It drives perfectionists mad. Most often, however, a split infinitive results in a slightly awkward sentence . . .. The advice most of the time is to avoid the split, but don't stay up nights worrying about it."
    (Val Dummond, Grammar for Grownups. HarperCollins, 1993)


    "[A] good example of how splitting an infinitive can actually make a meaning clearer is:
    This theory has failed to fully explain the facts.
    If, to avoid the split infinitive here, one were to write or say This theory has failed fully to explain the facts, it would not be clear whether one meant that there had been a full failure to explain or merely a failure to explain in full."
    (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994)




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  • James Thurber on the Perfect Infinitive (to + have + past participle)
    "It is easy enough to say that a person should live in such a way as to avoid the perfect infinitive after the past conditional, but it is another matter to do it. The observance of the commonest amenities of life constantly leads us into that usage. Let us take a typical case. A gentleman and his wife, calling on friends, find them not at home. The gentleman decides to leave a note of regret couched in a few well-chosen words, and the first thing he knows he is involved in this: 'We would have liked to have found you in.' Reading it over, the gentleman is assailed by the suspicion that he has too many 'haves,' and that the whole business has somehow been put too far into the past. His first reaction is to remedy this by dating the note: '9 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, 1929.' This at once seems too formal, and with a sigh he starts in again on the sentence itself. That is where he makes a fatal mistake. The simplest way out, as always, is to seek some other method of expressing the thought. In this case the gentleman should simply dash off, 'Called. You were out. Sorry,' and go home to bed. What he does, however, is to lapse into a profound study of this particular grammatical situation, than which there is no more hazardous mental occupation. . . .

    "First the victim will change the sentence to: 'We would have liked to find you in.' Now as a matter of fact, this is correct (barring the use of 'would' instead of 'should'), but, alas, the gentleman does not realize it. Few people ever do realize it. This is because the present infinitive, 'to find,' seems to imply success. They therefore fall back on the perfect infinitive, 'to have found,' because it implies that the thing hoped for did not come to pass. They have fallen back on it so often that, after the ordinary past tenses, its use has come to be counted as idiomatic, even though it is incorrect. . . .

    "There is a simple rule about past conditionals which will prevent a lapse into that deep contemplation which is so often fatal. After 'would have liked,' 'would have hoped,' 'would have feared,' etc., use the present infinitive. The implication of non-fulfillment is inherent in the governing verb itself, that is, in the 'would have liked,' etc. You don't have to shade the infinitive to get a nice note of frustration. Let it alone. Dr. H. W. Fowler himself says: 'Sometimes a writer, dimly aware that "would have liked to have done" is wrong, is yet so fascinated by the perfect infinitive that he clings to that at all costs.' That's what it is--a fascination--like a cobra's for a bird. Avoid the perfect infinitive after the past conditional as you would a cobra."
    (James Thurber, "Our Own Modern English Usage: The Perfect Infinitive." The New Yorker, June 22, 1929)

    "Perfect infinitive [is the] traditional, but pointless, label for a sequence of to plus have plus the past participle of a verb. An example is to have met in I would like to have met Napoleon. The name is inappropriate, since such a sequence is neither an infinitive nor a grammatical unit of any kind."
    (R.L. Trask, Dictionary of English Grammar. Penguin, 2000)

 

Pronunciation: in-FIN-i-tiv

Also Known As: to-infinitival and bare infinitival

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