[ in-fin-i-tiv ]
/ ɪnˈfɪn ɪ tɪv /
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a verb form found in many languages that functions as a noun or is used with auxiliary verbs, and that names the action or state without specifying the subject, as French venir “to come,” Latin esse “to be,” fuisse “to have been.”
(in English) the simple or basic form of the verb, as come, take, eat, be, used after auxiliary verbs, as in I didn't come, He must be, or this simple form preceded by a function word, as to in I want to eat.
consisting of or containing an infinitive: an infinitive construction.Abbreviation: infin.


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Origin of infinitive

1425–75; late Middle English <Late Latin infīnītīvus indefinite, equivalent to in-in-3 + fīnītīvus definite; see finite, -ive


in·fin·i·tive·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is an infinitive?

An infinitive is the basic form of a verb, having no tense and not being conjugated. In English, an infinitive is preceded by the word to.

In English, the infinitive form of the verb is the one you will see listed in dictionaries like this one. When infinitives are used in sentences, they follow auxiliary verbs, as in I should try,  or function words, as in I want to sleep.

Infinitives can serve other purposes as well, such as acting like nouns (To err is human), adjectives (I have no place to sleep), or adverbs (We eat to live).

Why is infinitive important?

The first records of the term infinitive come from around 1425. It comes from the Late Latin word infīnītīvus, meaning “indefinite.” Infinitives are used in many languages, even in very old languages like Latin.

In English, infinitives are usually made of two words such as to run or to know. In other languages, infinitives are a single word, such as the Latin dare (“to give”), the French faire (“to do”), and the Spanish hablar (“to speak”). English speakers are often taught the infinitive form of a verb before learning how each verb is conjugated.

Did you know ... ?

You may have heard that in English you shouldn’t “split” the infinitive, that is, you shouldn’t put a word between to and the infinitive form of the verb. This is a false rule that came about a few hundred years ago from a desire to make English more like Latin. English is English, though, and it’s being able to split infinitives is a feature of the language, not a fault. You can read more about this in “What Is A Split Infinitive?

What are real-life examples of infinitive?

The following chart lists some verbs in their infinitive form.

agree forget love refuse
choose hope need seem
decide intend plan struggle
expect learn pretend tend
fail like promise want


We often use infinitives in everyday speech, though we don’t often talk about them, unless we’re talking about language.


What other words are related to infinitive?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

In English, an infinitive verb has no tense and has not been conjugated.

How to use infinitive in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for infinitive

/ (ɪnˈfɪnɪtɪv) /

noun grammar
a form of the verb not inflected for grammatical categories such as tense and person and used without an overt subject. In English, the infinitive usually consists of the word to followed by the verb

Derived forms of infinitive

infinitival (ˌɪnfɪnɪˈtaɪvəl), adjectiveinfinitively or infinitivally, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for infinitive


The simple or dictionary form of a verb: walk, think, fly, exist. Often the word to marks a verb as an infinitive: “to walk,” “to think,” “to fly,” “to exist.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.