English Grammar Basic Grammar and syntax

Infinitives bare in English


This post helps you understand what a simple infinitive is, how and when to use it in a sentence correctly.

What is an infinitive in English?

An infinitive is ‘TO + V1’ of a verb that functions as a noun, adjective or adverb. It is a non-finite verb, which means that it does not change for and the tense of the sentence.


  • I need to sleep. (noun)
  • All we want is to drink something. (noun)
  • The person to meet there is Rahul. (adjective, modifying the noun ‘person’)
  • We need something to drink. It’s getting hot in here. (adjective, modifying the noun ‘something’)
  • We are going there to meet Jacob. (adverb, giving the reason of the main verb ‘going’)
  • It is important to sleep now. (adverb, modifying the adjective ‘important’)

What is a bare infinitive?

Un infinitivo simple, también conocido como infinitivo cero, es un infinitivo que no tiene la partícula TO en él.


  • I made her take the test.
  • We should leave now.
  • You had better go home. It’s getting dark.
  • I would rather kill myself than marry her.

We use the bare infinitive in the following cases:

  • After certain causative verbs and verbs of perception
  • After modal verbs
  • After ‘had better’ and ‘would rather’
  • After certain prepositions

After certain causative verbs and verbs of perception

Usamos un infinitivo simple después de los siguientes verbos: make, let, see, hear, watch, help, etc.


  • I made him say sorry to her.
  • My father does not let me smoke.
  • Did anyone watch us steal the money?
  • She did not hear us talk about the crime.
  • I helped you win the match.
  • I saw him play in the park.

Notice that these verbs are followed by an object (a person). The simple infinitive comes after the object, and also note that the object performs the action of the simple infinitive.

After modal verbs

These are the modal verbs together with the basic infinitives: can, could, may, might, should, would, will, shall, must, and needn’t.


  • You should go now.
  • Jon must work on his communication skills.
  • I can beat anyone.
  • You needn’t come tomorrow. (You are not required to come tomorrow.)
  • I can beat anyone.
  • She might now join us today.

Verbs that are used after modal verbs are called simple infinitives, since they do not change their number or tense with respect to the change in the number or tense of the subject. So they are actually functioning as a non-finite verb. By this logic, it is fair to call them non-finite verbs (bare infinitives).

But how can we form a sentence without having the main verb (finite verb)? The modal verb works as an auxiliary verb. A sentence cannot be formed with an auxiliary verb; it has to have a main verb (finite verb) after it. But that is not the case here. We have an (action) verb after the auxiliary verb, but we call it a simple infinitive. An infinitive is formed from a verb, but it does not function as a verb. So the application of the simple infinitive is a bit strange and controversial, at least for me.

After the verbs ‘had better’ and ‘would rather’.

The expressions ‘would have better’ and ‘would prefer’ are followed by a simple infinitive.


  • You had better take this offer; it will change your life.
  • We’d better leave early. We might miss the flight.
  • He had better start working on his communication skills.
  • I would rather kill myself than marry her.
  • She’d rather sit jobless than work with you.
  • I’d would rather die than eat this.


The expression ‘better’ is used to give a tip/suggestion. It is used to refer to an action in the present or in the future, that is desirable, or that we should do. ‘Had’ is sometimes contracted with the subject.

I had better = I’d better
You had better = you’d better


The expression“I’d prefer“is used to show what someone prefers. ‘Would’ can be contracted with the subject.

I would rather = I’d rather
We would rather = we’d rather

After the words BUT and except

For some grammarians, it is strange to use a simple infinitive after these words. But some say that it is grammatical to use the simple infinitive after them.


  • I had no option but pay them.
  • He does nothing except play games on his PC.

Note that it is more common to use a regular infinitive after ‘but’ and a gerund after ‘except’.

  • I had no option but to pay them. (infinitive)
  • He does nothing except playing games on his PC. (gerund)

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