It’s not so easy to know when and why you need to use the bare infinitive (run, joke, make etc.), a gerund or ‘to’ + infinitive, and whether or not it is correct. So, there are three rules as to why we use the bare infinitive (infinitive without ‘to’ or –ing):
When to use bare infinitives in English
- The bare infinitive is used after modal auxiliary verbs (helping verbs: can & could, may & might, will & shall, must, would, ought to & should, need to, dare to).
- We use the bare infinitive after many verbs or perception, verbs used to perceive. (see, notice, hear etc.).
- We use the bare infinitive with ‘why’ Interrogatives; wh-? words and how?
We use the bare infinitive after modal auxiliary verbs
However, we do not use the bare infinitive after need to, dare to and ought to, due to their nature (these modal auxiliaries are connected to ‘to’):
|Can||I can tell you where he is if you like.|
|Could||They could know.|
|May||She may head out to the party tonight.|
|Might||Sophie might understand it better.|
|Will||Will you please be quiet?|
|Shall||They shall know by tomorrow.|
|Must||Harry, you must not cross a red light!|
|Would||Would you be able to help me?|
|Should||George should definitely run the marathon.|
|Ought to||* You ought to know what he said.|
|Need to||*Sir. please, you need to listen to him.|
|Dare to||*They dared me to jump off.|
We use the bare infinitive after many verbs of perception, verbs used to perceive.
These verbs of perception can also take the gerund form:
|Watch||I watched you leave/leaving yesterday.|
|See||I didn’t see you work/working.|
|Hear||Harry can hear me speak/speaking.|
|Notice||I notice you quarrel a fair bit.|
|Feel||I felt you check/checking my ears.|
|Sense||I sensed them come/coming.|
|Smell||The dog can smell you eat/eating.|
We use the bare infinitive with ‘why’
Why did you leave so early last night?
Why go now?
Why not learn to sail?
Why write when you can type?
Why have I not seen you before?
Modal auxiliary verbs:
- Articles (a/an, the, zero article)
- Pronouns: subject, object and possessive
- Question tags
- English conditionals
- Interrogatives in English
- Phrasal verbs
- Prefixes and suffixes
- Reported and direct speech
- Punctuation: apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, commas, dashes, full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation marks
- Numbers: cardinal, ordinal, and Roman numbers
- The verb: “get”
- ‘Get’ vs. ‘go’ and ‘got’ vs. ‘gotten’
- Copular verbs
- Cleft sentences
- Subjunctive in English
- Vulgar and taboo in English
- Split infinitive
- Emphasis with inversion
- Gerunds in English
- To + infinitive
- British and American spelling