GrammarPhile Blog

Using Infinitives in Corporate Documents

Posted by Phil Jamieson   May 11, 2010 5:30:00 AM

Infinitives are used in many of the corporate communications we review. But what is the best way to use them? Let's take at look this week.

An infinitive is the form of the verb preceded by to (for example, to write, to do, to be). When two or more infinitives are used in a parallel construction, the word to may be omitted after the first infinitive unless special emphasis is desired.

  • Ask JoJo to sign both copies of the contract, return the original to me, and keep the other. (Return and keep are infinitives without to.)
  • I would like you to teach Melanie to ski, to give her help if she needs it, and to see that she does not drown. (For emphasis, to is used with all three infinitives--teach, give, and see.)
    NOTE: The word to is usually dropped when the infinitive follows such verbs as see, hear, feel, let, help, and need.
  • Will you please help me prepare the report? (rather than: help me to prepare)
  • You need not return the clipping. (or: You do not need to return the clipping.)

Infinitives have two main tense forms: the present infinitive and the perfect infinitive.

(1) The perfect infinitive is used to express action that has been completed before the time of the main verb.

  • I am sorry to have caused you so much trouble last week. (The act of causing trouble was completed before the act of expressing grief; therefore the perfect infinitive is used.)

(2) The present infinitive is used in all other cases.

  • I planned to leave the tournament early. (not: to have left. The act of leaving could not have been completed before the act of planning, so the present infinitive is used.)

The passive form of the present infinitive consists of to be plus the past participle. Do not omit to be in such constructions.

  • This office needs to be repainted. (not: This office needs repainted.)

Next week: To split or not to split? (An infinitive, not a banana.)

Source: The Gregg Reference Manual.

Topics: business writing, infinitives

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