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.”)


Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed

Apostrophe humor

rogersgeorge on February 22nd, 2014

I have mentioned apostrophes now and then, so don’t expect much new today. This comic, by  Jon Kudelka, who might be an Australian, appeared recently, though, and I can’t resist repeating  myself.

How many apostrophic solecisms can you count?

Apostrophes are replacements for letters you leave out of a word. The apostrophe as the sign of the possessive in nouns (not pronouns!) came from the German, where the possessive ending is usually -es. We take out the e.

Rule 1: Plurals don’t get an apostrophe, even if you’re writing grocery store vegetable signs.

Rule 2: For possessives, look at the noun (not pronoun!) that you want to make into a possessive. If it ends in an single s, put an apostrophe on the end and you’re done. If it doesn’t end in s, add apostrophe s.

Rule 3: You don’t need an apostrophe to pluralize an acronym.

Want a couple complications?

Complication 1: If the word you want to pluralize ends in a vowel or laryngeal sound before the s, you do the apostrophe followed by nothing, but you pronounce the missing -es ending. For example, “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount” is pronounced “Jesuses Sermon etc.”  and my first name, “Rogers,” has the possessive form “Rogers’ ” and you pronounce it “Rogerses.” Both of these, with the -es, are how you spell and pronounce the plural, by the way.

Complication 2: Use apostrophe s for the possessive of acronyms, even if the acronym ends in ss (for example, the Office of Strategic Services is the OSS). This is the only time in English where you can have three of the same letter in a row. “The OSS’s pronouncement” is grammatical. (Okay, onomatopoetic words can have any number of repeated letters. A snake goes “ssssssss,” and a cow goes “moooo.”)

Complication 3: Pronouns have their own possessive forms: my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their. No apostrophe! That’s not really a complication, is it?