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    #1

    What are infinitives?

    What are infinitives used for? What's the function? Is it to convey a certain meaning? I looked it up in the dictionary, but I don't understand how to explain how it's used in everyday speech. We say adjectives help give detail, but what do you say for infinitives?

    I also don't understand where the infinitive is in the bold part: "You must have been waiting a long time."
    Or how "be done" is an infinitive.

    And in the sentence "I'm used to sleeping in late" is "to sleeping" an infinitive? What is the "to" in that sentence? Infinitive, preposition, something else?

    Pleeeeease please please help! I'm so confused!!
    Thanks!!
    Last edited by GreyRabbit; 03-Nov-2010 at 05:56.

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    #2

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Quote Originally Posted by GreyRabbit View Post
    What are infinitives used for? What's the function? Is it to convey a certain meaning? I looked it up in the dictionary, but I don't understand how to explain how it's used in everyday speech. We say adjectives help give detail, but what do you say for infinitives?

    I also don't understand where the infinitive is in the bold part: "You must have been waiting a long time."
    Or how "be done" is an infinitive.

    And in the sentence "I'm used to sleeping in late" is "to sleeping" an infinitive? What is the "to" in that sentence? Infinitive, preposition, something else?

    Pleeeeease please please help! I'm so confused!!
    Thanks!!
    First, a general outline:

    An infinitive is the name given to the base (i.e. uninflected) form of a verb when it functions as a nonfinite verbal element, namely when it occurs after certain prepositions, most notably 'to'*, or after an auxiliary verb. Thus the boldfaced forms of the following

    He wanted to go to the fair.
    Does she do anything besides complain?
    Can you help me?
    Do you like her?

    are all infinitives.

    Although properly reserved for the verb form itself, on account of the great frequency of the [to + infinitive] combination, the term ‘infinitive’ is often popularly applied to the entire two-word phrase, with the term ‘bare infinitive’ used to distinguish the one-word form.

    Infinitives (with or without a preceding ‘to’) serve 4 major grammatical functions:

    1. As COMPLEMENTS (traditionally labeled ‘dependents’) to auxiliary and other verbs
    2. As ADJECTIVALS, e.g. ‘to remember’ in It was a day to remember. (‘to remember’ here meaning ‘memorable’)
    3. As ADVERBIALS, e.g. ‘to be’ in To be honest, I’ve never even been there. (Cf. Honestly,...)
    4. As NOMINALS, e.g. both infinitives of For a Viking, to die in battle was to be destined for glory.

    Secondly, to answer your two specific queries:

    (1) The infinitive of 'must have been waiting' is 'have' (complementing modal auxiliary 'must')

    (2) No, 'sleeping' in the phrase you cite is a gerund.

    *N.B. Not all linguists accept the 'to' that precedes an infinitive (as opposed to e.g. that which precedes 'sleeping' in your example) as a true preposition. Given, however, both that it is incontrovertibly one in origin, and that no other word class even remotely suitable for its classification exists, it seems prudent to term it, at the very least, an 'etymological preposition'.

  1. 5jj's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: What are infinitives?

    I can't improve on Philo's explanation, but I'll just add that constructions such as I'm used to sleeping in late and I look forward to seeing you often confuse students, who are so used to seeing verbs followed by a gerund or a to-infinitive (I enjoy skiing, I want to ski),that they want to produce I'm used to sleep and I look forward to see.

    These students, rightly, believe that forms such as to sleepingand to seeing are not parts of the verb.

    What is happening in these constructions is that be/get used and look forward collocate with the preposition to, which is followed by a noun or a 'verbal noun' (gerund).

    So, we can analyse this as :

    . I look-forward to seeing you. (I look forward to your visit, the meeting, etc.)
    NOT: I look-forward to-seeing you

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    #4

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Thank you guys so much! I really appreciate it!

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    #5

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    3. As ADVERBIALS, e.g. ‘to be’ in To be honest, I’ve never even been there. (Cf. Honestly,...)
    In my opinion, 'to be honest' isn't an adverbial. An adverbial modifies a predicate. This syntactic group does not. In my school of linguistics it's called a parenthesis. Here is an example of an adverbial:
    To pass the exam, you'll have to work hard. You'll have to work hard (for what purpose?) to pass the exam. This is an adverbial of purpose. You can't even put an identifying question to 'to be honest' in your sentence. Which type of adverbial is it?

    Oh, you say 'to be' alone is an adverbial?? No, I don't think so. This whole fragment 'to be honest' should syntactically be treated as one unit and classified as an infinitive phrase used as parenthesis.

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    #6

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pokemon View Post
    In my opinion, 'to be honest' isn't an adverbial. [...]Which type of adverbial is it?
    .
    One line of thought is that it is a sentence adverbial, which modifies the sentence as a whole, or a clause within the sentence. Along with such other sentence adverbial expressions as frankly, honestly, with respect, personally, and if I may say so, it is classed as a style disjunct, which express comments by the speakers on the style or manner in which they are speaking.

    See:
    Sidney Greenbaum's article on Adverbials in McArthur, Tom (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language,Oxford: OUP;
    Chapter 8, The semantics and grammar of adverbials in Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey and Svartik, Jan (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, London: Longman.

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    #7

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pokemon View Post
    In my opinion, 'to be honest' isn't an adverbial. An adverbial modifies a predicate. This syntactic group does not. In my school of linguistics it's called a parenthesis.
    Fair enough. In mine, however (essentially that of Quirk, Greenbaum et al.), it is classified as an adverbial disjunct (while adverbials directly modifying the verb phrase are termed 'adjuncts').

    Some other schools of grammar favour the term sentence adverbial.

    Regarding the issue of phrase partition, the infinitive is cited here as adverbial in its capacity as head of the infinitive phrase, essentially just as 'boy' can be cited as the central nominal element in the noun phrase 'a small boy'. Naturally, however, the complementary adjective 'honest' is required for the syntactic completeness of the adverbial in the context of a sentence, just as 'a small' would be needed for the syntactic completeness of the noun phrase.
    Last edited by philo2009; 04-Nov-2010 at 07:03.

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    #8

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    One line of thought is that it is a sentence adverbial, which modifies the sentence as a whole, or a clause within the sentence. Along with such other sentence adverbial expressions as frankly, honestly, with respect, personally, and if I may say so, it is classed as a style disjunct, which express comments by the speakers on the style or manner in which they are speaking.

    See:
    Sidney Greenbaum's article on Adverbials in McArthur, Tom (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language,Oxford: OUP;
    Chapter 8, The semantics and grammar of adverbials in Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey and Svartik, Jan (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, London: Longman.
    Thanks for those references.

    b

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    #9

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post

    (1) The infinitive of 'must have been waiting' is 'have' (complementing modal auxiliary 'must')
    There is another thing that struck me as unusual when you seperated 'have' from the rest of the analytic form. 'Have been waiting' is complete grammatical form - the perfect continuous infinitive of the verb 'wait'. If you consider 'have' as an independent form, how would you classify the 'been' and 'waiting'? And if I say: "To have done it was a mistake', what is 'to have done' in your opinion? In your school of thought do you recognize that the infinitive can have different aspect/voice forms?

    P.S. I hope the last message by the moderator wasn't an invitation to end up this interesting discussion. Thank you, Bobk, I don't drink at this hour, too early for me.

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    #10

    Re: What are infinitives?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pokemon View Post
    There is another thing that struck me as unusual when you seperated 'have' from the rest of the analytic form. 'Have been waiting' is complete grammatical form - the perfect continuous infinitive of the verb 'wait'. If you consider 'have' as an independent form, how would you classify the 'been' and 'waiting'?
    Your question highlights the difference between parsing a sentence (identifying the function of each individual word, as it relates to that which precedes/follows it) and phrase analysis, concerned primarily with assigning functions to groups of words. Both naturally have their uses in different situations.

    Thus, if parsing the phrase 'must have been waiting', we would get

    MUST: finite (modal auxiliary) verb
    HAVE: (auxiliary) infinitive, complementing 'must'
    BEEN: (auxiliary) past participle of 'be', complementing 'have'
    WAITING: present participle, complementing 'been'.

    A large-scale phrase analysis, on the other hand, would simply label the entire group a 'finite verb phrase' - a description that might often, depending on one's purpose, be sufficient.

    Naturally, however, phrase analysis permits partition of phrases in a number of ways: the component 'have been waiting' is an infinitive phrase (i.e. a phrase headed by an infinitive), 'been waiting' a participle phrase, until eventually, with participle 'waiting', we have returned to the level of simple parsing.

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