Infinitive verbs with or without to

Posted on 10 December 2014 by Lucy Gregory

What’s an infinitive verb?

An infinitive verb is a verb in its basic form, without being changed to match a subject or tense. For example, drink, laugh, write, work, analyse, develop, arrange.

Infinitive verbs with or without to

We often write the word to in front of the infinitive. In fact, it’s so common that many people think for a verb to be infinitive it must have to in front of it.

Here are some examples of the infinitive with the word to:

I like to drink coffee in the morning.

The client told us to proceed with the project.

Do we need to make any changes to the document?

We decided not to rely on the data.

There are occasions, however, when you write the infinitive verb without to. For example, after words such as can, could, might, must, will, would and should.

I really must clear my inbox.

It would be helpful to speak to Sandra about this.

Another example is when the infinitive comes after the verbs feel, hear, let, make, see, watch.

Adam watched John shuffle down the corridor.

Could you let me lead this project?

Most of the time, you’ll know instinctively whether to include the word to. However, one example can cause confusion. What do you do with the word help?

We helped to reduce environmental damage.

We helped reduce environmental damage.

Both are grammatically correct, and whether you include to is a matter of style. However, it’s good practice to cut unnecessary words from your writing, so, unless your sentence sounds wrong without it, we recommend ditching to in this instance.

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