Bare Infinitives in English


In the vast world of English grammar, there are many intricacies that can confuse both native speakers and learners alike. One such area of interest is the use of bare infinitives. Bare infinitives are verbs that are used in their base form without the typical “to” that precedes them. In this article, we will explore the concept of bare infinitives, their applications, and why they play a crucial role in conveying meaning in various contexts.

Understanding Bare Infinitives

A bare infinitive, as mentioned, is simply the base form of a verb, unaccompanied by the word “to.” It is a construction that is often found in a variety of sentences, particularly in situations where it might seem unconventional. However, the use of bare infinitives serves specific purposes in English grammar.

  • Subjunctive Mood

One common use of bare infinitives is in expressing the subjunctive mood. This mood is employed when we want to convey a sense of doubt, desire, necessity, or a hypothetical situation. Take, for example, the sentence, “It is imperative that more capital be directed to technologies that limit fuel consumption.” Here, “be directed” is a bare infinitive used to express a desire or necessity.

  • Commands and Requests

Bare infinitives are often utilized in commands and requests, where they lend a sense of directness and urgency. Consider the sentence, “I insist that the question be stricken from the record.” In this case, “be stricken” is a bare infinitive that conveys a formal request.

  • Reporting Verbs

Bare infinitives also appear in reported speech when we convey what someone else said. For example, “The court officially ruled that the refund be paid immediately.” Here, “be paid” is a bare infinitive used to report the court’s decision directly.

  • Expressing Necessity or Obligation

Bare infinitives can also indicate necessity or obligation in sentences. For instance, “State laws require that access to health care be free.” In this example, “be free” as a bare infinitive emphasizes the mandatory nature of the requirement.

  • Certain Structures

Certain sentence structures and phrases require bare infinitives for grammatical accuracy. For instance, “Should more funds be shifted from ports to airports?” In this question, the use of “be shifted” as a bare infinitive is necessary for correct sentence structure.

Why Do Bare Infinitives Matter?

Understanding the significance of bare infinitives goes beyond mere grammatical knowledge. It enhances our comprehension of how language conveys meaning, and it can help us become more effective communicators. Here are some reasons why bare infinitives matter:

  1. Clarity in Communication: Proper usage of bare infinitives ensures that our messages are clear and easily understood, preventing ambiguity in our sentences.
  2. Expressing Nuance: Bare infinitives, when combined with modal verbs, allow us to convey subtle shades of meaning, such as ability, necessity, or willingness.
  3. Stylistic Variation: Utilizing bare infinitives can add stylistic variety to our writing and speech, making our language more engaging and diverse.
  4. Understanding Literature and Media: Many literary works and forms of media employ bare infinitives, so recognizing them is essential for comprehending and appreciating various forms of art and literature.


Bare infinitives may seem unusual at first glance, especially to those learning English, but they are a fundamental component of the language’s grammar. Understanding when and how to use them is essential for effective communication. Whether conveying desires, issuing commands, reporting speech, adhering to specific structures, or expressing necessity, bare infinitives have a unique role in the English language. Their power lies in their ability to succinctly and precisely convey meaning in a variety of contexts, making them a valuable tool for proficient speakers and writers.

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