The Grammar of English Infinitives with Czech Comparison

by Michaela Čakányová (Author)
Monographs 232 Pages


This book aims to clarify some puzzles that have been topical in formal linguistics for many decades now. It concerns the status of English and, for comparison, Czech infinitives, as opposed to finite clauses and marginally also gerunds. The book systematically demonstrates the functional (meaning) and syntactic (form) properties of infinitives. It highlights the essential properties common to all infinitives, their core structure in Logical Form (LF) and their relation to an irrealis feature. It also investigates the particularities of the various infinitival constructions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • 1. Introduction: Survey of Chapter Contents
  • 2. Syntax of the Infinitival Particle to
  • 2.1 Historical Development of Infinitives and the Infinitival Marker to
  • 2.2 Contemporary Treatments of to
  • 2.3 The N.I.C.E. Criteria and to
  • 2.3.1 Sentence Negation
  • 2.3.2 Constituent Negation
  • 2.3.3 Inversion
  • 2.3.4 Coda
  • 2.3.5 Ellipsis
  • 2.3.6 Contraction and Emphasis
  • 2.4 The Grammatical Position of to
  • 2.5 Quasi-Modal be to and ought to
  • 2.6 Czech Infinitival Morphosyntax
  • 2.7 Chapter Summary
  • 3. Verbal Semantics and the Form of the Clausal Complement
  • 3.1 Finite Expressions
  • 3.2 Factive Verbs and Their Presupposed Finite Complements
  • 3.3 Finiteness and the Factivity of Verbs
  • 3.4 Futurity and a Conditional Feature in the Main Clause
  • 3.5 Non-finite Complementation and Factivity
  • 3.6 State / Event and Action Realization of an Argument
  • 3.7 Givón’s Classification of Verbs
  • 3.8 Classification of Verbs according to their Truth Value
  • 3.8.1 That Omission
  • 3.9 Finiteness and Factivity in Czech
  • 3.10 State / Event and Action Realization of an Argument in Czech
  • 3.11 Chapter Summary
  • 4. Structural Realizations of Infinitival Semantics
  • 4.1 The Definition of Mood and Modality
  • 4.1.1 Irrealis Mood in English
  • 4.1.2 Modality
  • 4.2 Two Models of Auxiliary Structure
  • 4.3 Split Infinitives
  • 4.4 Infinitive Alternatives to other Irrealis Moods
  • 4.4.1 Infinitive Alternatives to Imperatives
  • 4.4.2 Infinitive Alternatives to Conditional
  • 4.5 Infinitive in Main Clauses
  • 4.5.1 Optative Infinitives
  • 4.5.2 Prescriptive Infinitives
  • 4.6 Infinitives as Subjects
  • 4.7 Infinitives as Adjuncts
  • 4.7.1 Infinitive of Purpose
  • 4.7.2 Infinitival Relatives
  • 4.7.3 Infinitival Adjunct with Degree Adjectives
  • 4.7.4 Infinitives of Result
  • 4.8 Infinitives as Complements (Irrealis Meaning)
  • 4.8.1 Indirect questions
  • 4.8.2 Adjectives
  • 4.9 Infinitives as Complements (Realis Meaning)
  • 4.9.1 Verbs
  • 4.9.2 Adjectives
  • 4.10 Chapter Summary
  • 5. Distribution and Sizes of Non-finite Clauses
  • 5.1 Gerunds are DPs and Infinitives are CPs or InfPs
  • 5.2 Raising Constructions
  • 5.3 Control Constructions
  • 5.4 Mono-clausal and Bi-clausal Constructions
  • 5.5 Infinitives and Tense
  • 5.6 Movement and Control Controversy
  • 5.7 Czech Counterparts of Raising, ECM and Control Infinitives
  • 5.8 Chapter Summary
  • 6. Bare Infinitives as Special Complements
  • 6.1 Modals and Intransitive Verbs with Bare Infinitives
  • 6.1.1 Central Modals
  • 6.1.2 Verbs with Weaker Modality
  • 6.1.3 Verbs Expressing Initial Phase of Action
  • 6.2 Transitive Verbs with Bare Infinitive Complements
  • 6.3 Bare Infinitive as Predicates
  • 6.3.1 Bare Infinitive in Pseudoclefts
  • 6.3.2 Bare Infinitive after Prepositions
  • 6.3.3 Bare Infinitive in Wh-questions
  • 6.4 Bare Infinitive Limitations in Comparison with to-infinitive
  • 6.4.1 Bare Infinitives and Realis Value
  • 6.4.2 Movement Constraints on Bare Infinitives
  • 6.4.3 Bare Infinitives with Overt Subjects / Agents
  • 6.5 A Brief Comparison with Czech
  • 6.6 Chapter Summary
  • 7. Phasehood of Infinitives
  • 7.1 Phasehood and Obligatory Control Infinitives
  • 7.2 Non-phasal Raising Infinitives
  • 7.3 ECM and RTO Infinitives
  • 7.4 For to Infinitives and their Status
  • 7.5 Phasehood of Czech Infinitives
  • 7.5.1 Czech Obligatory Control Infinitives as Phases
  • 7.5.2 Czech ECM Infinitives as Non-phases
  • 7.5.3 Czech Raising Infinitives as Non-phases
  • 7.6 Chapter Summary
  • 8. Conclusion
  • Appendices
  • Appendix I: List of Object Control Verbs:
  • Appendix II: List of Subject Control Verbs:
  • Appendix III: List of ECM Verbs:
  • Appendix IV: List of Raising to Subject Verbs:
  • Bibliography
  • Series Index

←14 | 15→


Introduction: Survey of Chapter Contents

This book aims to clarify some puzzles that have been topical in formal linguistics for many decades now. Namely it concerns the status of English and for comparison Czech infinitives, as opposed to finite clauses and marginally also gerunds. Infinitives are of multiple kinds and sizes1, and we will try to systematically demonstrate their functional (meaning) and syntactic (form) properties. We will also try to grasp the essential properties common to all infinitives, their core structure in Logical Form (LF) and their relation to an irrealis feature. At the same time, we will investigate the particularities of the various infinitival constructions.

In this work we will use the standard functional and generative terminology and assume the structures as presented in literature cited in relevant sections. As for methodology, we will apply empirical approach referring to real language data and relate the generalizations to theoretical assumptions. Therefore, we aim at proposals and claims descriptively adequate and systematic.

The infinitive is basically a reduced clausal form as opposed to finite clauses. Among other things, what the infinitive is lacking is an agreement with the subject. Their subject is typically not overt but it is covert and as such its reference is obligatorily “controlled” (Chomsky 1981, Ch. 3), usually by a noun phrase in a higher clause in either subject (1) or object position (2).


a) I promised Jim that I will call him soon.

b) Ii promised Jim PROi to call him soon.


a) Jane persuaded Peter that he should give him his car.

b) Jane persuaded Peteri PROi to give him his car.

←15 | 16→Under quite specific structural conditions, another option for an infinitival subject is movement out of the infinitival clause into a higher “matrix” clause, leaving just a trace. This is called an instance of raising to subject, where the subject of the infinitive is raised to the subject position of the main verb.


a) Johni seems ti to know the answer.

b) Johni is likely ti to be dead.

There are, however, instances when the infinitive can have an overt subject; in case of structures like (4a) or in the for to constructions (4b) (Rosenbaum 1974, Ch. 5).


a) I want [Jim to apologize to Jane].

b) I would like [for him to join me].

The English infinitive, therefore, sometimes gets very close to a full finite clause. This cannot be said about the gerund, which is truly just a short form of the finite clause, in particular the “verb phrase”, and which forms only a DP. It typically does not have an overt subject and it does not seem to have any added semantic value or a special property that the infinitive or at least the to-infinitive has.

There has been a lot written on the properties of the infinitival particle to, much of which we attempt to disprove and show that in fact it does not have the same properties as a modal (MOD) or auxiliary (AUX), but that it still has some semantic properties of the preposition to and that is “pointing to the future”. Also, if the to particle is not MOD / AUX, it is not in the I/T position. In fact, it deserves its own position within the tree structure which has an irrealis feature and is incompatible with other irrealis expressions like modals. This issue is discussed in detail in Chapter 2.

Since the inherent feature of the infinitive seems to be irrealis (Palmer 2001), this means that it reports clauses that are not part of reality. The event described by the infinitive is typically not happening now nor in the past, but it may or may not happen in the future. For this reason, the infinitive is incompatible with truth values and as such is not suitable for the complementation of the much discussed “factive verbs”. This is demonstrated in Chapter 3.

←16 | 17→The infinitival clauses can also be very often transformed into finite clauses, using MOD/AUX. For a similar reason, the infinitive can appear in all types of conditional sentences instead of finite subordinate conditional clauses and it can also express orders, regulations and advice, i.e., unrealized states of affairs instead of the imperative, in both English and Czech. In the majority of cases, the infinitive functions as irrealis mood. All these instances are described in Chapter 4.

Regarding the form or syntax of the infinitives, some of them can have overt subjects and some cannot, and there is also a difference as to their sizes. Some infinitives can be as big as full clauses (CPs), some are only IPs, but all to-infinitives incorporate a more basic infinitival phrase an InfP and that is as small as they can get in some cases (e.g.: raising infinitives).2 The syntax of different kinds of infinitives is discussed in Chapter 5.

Whether it is truly the particle to which is responsible for the semantic future pointing and the syntactic behavior of infinitives can be best seen in the comparison of to-infinitives with bare infinitives which are the smallest of them all. They do not have the particle to in the and as a consequence they cannot appear in similar places and constructions as their counterparts to-infinitives. We can see a detailed analysis in Chapter 6.

Following Chapters 5 and 6, Chapter 7 attempts to develop this idea of different sizes of infinitives. In this chapter, we use Chomsky’s (2001) theory of phases and try to determine the phasehood of the infinitives. We try to delimit the necessary conditions on the phasal boundaries and decide whether some of the bigger infinitives can qualify as phases. It turns out that some infinitives that are CPs do qualify and are therefore again very close to finite clauses.

Since the author of this book is not a native speaker of English, some claims are based not only on theoretical findings but also verified by ←17 | 18→empirical data found in language corpora; Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and British National Corpus (BNC). All the chapters include a brief comparison with the situation in Czech because it is the author’s mother tongue, and it is always interesting to compare some phenomena cross-linguistically in order to uncover some common patterns. There is, however, no claim of universality across languages of the discussed phenomena since the book operates with these two languages only.

←18 | 19→


Syntax of the Infinitival Particle to

In this chapter we are going to challenge the idea that the infinitival marker to is in the same position as MOD/AUX, i.e., I position and that it forms an IP. Instead, we will try to show that it forms a different kind of phrase with quite distinct properties.

2.1 Historical Development of Infinitives and the Infinitival Marker to

The English infinitival particle to is traditionally believed to have originated from the homonymous preposition to, and that is why it frequently appears in a purpose adjunct or goal argument even today.


a) He called to check on her health.

b) She opened the door (in order) to let him in.

In Old English the infinitival to always introduced an NP and was followed by a word which was in dative case. This would also support its origin as a preposition with dative that was originally complemented by a nominal phrase but as can be seen in Miller’s (2002, 196) example from Beowulf (Beo 1940 f.) it started to appear with an inflected infinitive.






ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (January)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 232 pp., 18 fig. b/w, 8 tables

Biographical notes

Michaela Čakányová (Author)

Michaela Čakányová teaches and researches in the areas of morphosyntax and syntax in the Department of English and American Studies, Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Her research interests also include morphology, semantics, and philosophy of language.


Title: The Grammar of English Infinitives with Czech Comparison