Funny thing about Infinitives

rogersgeorge on October 13th, 2016

Did you know that infinitives can have a subject? Normally we think of the infinitive form of a verb as the form we use when we refer to the verb itself; it’s the citation form. We use it to mean the verb itself without anyone doing anything about it. Think of Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet:

To be or not to be, that is the question.

In fact, this construction treats the verb itself as a noun.

But that’s not the funny thing I’m thinking of regarding infinitives. The funny thing is (1) that infinitives can have a subject, just like a regular verb and (2) the subject is not in the nominative case!  Sometimes the subject is in the possessive. In Tennyson, for example:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:

Usually the subject is in the objective case:

He helped me to fix the car
I want him to get the prize

Which leads me to the Pickles comic that encouraged me to think about all this. (She gets it wrong, by the way—should be “whom.”)


Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>