Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A verb form that functions as a substantive while retaining certain verbal characteristics, such as modification by adverbs, and that in English may be preceded by to, as in To go willingly is to show strength or We want him to work harder, or may also occur without to, as in She had them read the letter or We may finish today. See Usage Note at split infinitive.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The uninflected form of a verb. In English, this is usually formed with the verb stem preceded by 'to'. e.g. 'to sit'
  • n. A verbal noun formed from the infinitive of a verb
  • adj. Formed with the infinitive

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adv. In the manner of an infinitive mood.
  • n. Unlimited; not bounded or restricted; undefined.
  • n. An infinitive form of the verb; a verb in the infinitive mood; the infinitive mood.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • In grammar, unlimited; indefinite: noting a certain verb-form sometimes called the infinitive mode. See II.
  • n. In grammar, a certain verb-form expressing the general sense of the verb without restriction in regard to person or number, as English give, German geben, French donner, Latin dare, Greek διδόναι.
  • n. An endless quantity or number; an infinity.
  • n. a name conveniently used to designate briefly the infinitive phrase consisting of the infinitive proper (for example, ‘designate,’ below) and the so-called ‘sign,’ the preposition ‘to,’ when separated by a qualifying adverb or phrase, as in ‘to briefly designate,’ ‘to readily understand,’ ‘to suddenly and completely change one's attitude.’ This use is in high disfavor with literary critics and purists who write upon the subject, but it occurs abundantly in English literature from the seventeenth century down. Nearly every ‘standard author’ is ‘guilty’ of it, as Fitzedward Hall and others have shown, and it is thoroughly established in popular speech. It is often dictated by a sense of rhythm, the placing of the adverb after the verb and before the week adjunct or object which follows the verb resulting often in disharmony of rhythm and stress. The idiom is a perfectly natural development of the conditions given—a verb to be qualified, a stress qualifier, and an unstressed syllable (to) of no definite meaning. This syllable to is instinctively treated as a or the is treated in a similarly stressed sequence of adjective and noun (‘a brief designation,’ ‘the proper order,’ etc.)

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the uninflected form of the verb

Etymologies

From Middle English infinitif, of an infinitive, from Old French, from Late Latin īnfīnītīvus, unlimited, indefinite, infinitive, from Latin īnfīnītus, infinite; see infinite.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Late Latin infinitivus, from infinitus (Wiktionary)

Examples

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Comments

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  • Contrary to the grey definition above, 'the uninflected form of the verb', I know of no language that has an uninflected infinitive. Most European languages, including Turkish and Finnish but excluding English and Modern Greek, have an infinitive, but in none of them is it in any way the most basic form of the verb. By tradition it is often used as the citation form of the verb: the name for the set of all inflected forms; so we speak of the verb lachen or savoir or graphein in shorthand for potentially huge numbers of forms.

    In English the citation form is either simply the plain form, which is uninflected, or by a curious historical accident a word sequence that is not in any way part of the verb, nor even a constituent of sentences in which it occurs: namely the infinitival subordinator 'to' followed by the plain form of the verb. This word sequence has traditionally been called the infinitive, too. It isn't; it isn't anything, any more than 'the black' is anything in 'the black cat', or 'man with' is anything in 'the man with the golden gun'. Talk about splitting this non-constituent is therefore like talk about splitting 'the black', and claiming that 'the big, black cat' could be ungrammatical.

    September 16, 2008

  • Oh. Guess I need to learn Latin. Or not. :-)

    January 26, 2007

  • The biggest experimenter was of course, Shakespeare.

    The rule exists in English because some British guys were obsessed with Latin. In Latin, the infinitive is one word, which is unsplittable. English has no problem splitting infinitives, and everyone does.

    January 26, 2007

  • I've heard otherwise from various professors. Ultimately, the question about "rules" like this and their "application" comes down to authority. There is no rulebook. There are no enforcers of the rules. There may be disagreement about what is proper usage, but in the end language is fluid -- and we may use it however we wish.

    Some standardization arises naturally. It must, or no one would be able to communicate. But on the fringe are voices like E.E. Cummings and James Joyce, keeping things interesting. Where's brtom when you need him? It's the experimenters that add color and richness to the English language! Without them, Wordie wouldn't be a very fun place to hang out.

    Woah! Spontaneous tirade!

    January 26, 2007

  • Actually, that rule only applies in Latin.

    January 26, 2007

  • Remember to never split an infinitive.

    January 25, 2007