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Infinitives may function as nouns, adjectives or adverbs. Since infinitives are derived from verbs, they do express actions or states of being.

However, there is some difficulty in identifying the particular role of the infinitive in a sentence. Is there a generic test available to determine whether each infinitive is serving as a noun, adjective, or adverb?

I will be taking the GMAT exam shortly, and this is an area that I am particularly weak in. It is necessary to identify the role of Infinitives in order to get answers right for questions related to Parallelism and Verb Tense.

Example: "Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save." - Will Rogers

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There are very few "generic tests" that apply to sentences. There are a number of characteristics that contribute to uses, but the most important one, since infinitives and gerunds are always subordinate constructions, is the main predicate in the clause they modify, which may be a verb, a noun, or an adjective (or adverb, for that matter). The commanding predicate determines whether there can be any subordinate clause at all; whether it can be an infinitive, or a gerund, or any other kind of subordinate clause; and which specific senses each such clause can have. –  John Lawler Jul 12 '13 at 17:24
    
I'm not sure I get this. Isn't the pattern 'to (verb)' enough? 'to find', 'to save'... are there any that are not like that? How about with modals like 'I can see', the 'see', is that considered an infinitive? –  Mitch Jul 12 '13 at 17:26
    
@Mitch. That was my initial thought - then I re-read the question! It asks about "identifying the particular role of the infinitive in a sentence". –  TrevorD Jul 12 '13 at 17:39
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Relative infinitives modify nouns: He's the man to do it, He's the man to see about it. And there are infinitive embedded questions, where the infinitive modifies the Wh-word: When to do it/How to get his attention is the problem. If you want to call these infinitives adjectives and/or adverbs, go ahead. But I don't see where it helps anything; the Latin categories don't work in English. –  John Lawler Jul 12 '13 at 22:14
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There are articles at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinitive , edufind.com/english/grammar/infinitive_function.php and learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/… . And many grammarians would say that 'the to-infinitive is here behaving adverbially' is not identical to 'the to-infinitive is here an adverb'. –  Edwin Ashworth Jul 13 '13 at 9:50
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

I am somewhat weak in this subject also; however, I have developed a test that might work for your purposes also. It is to replace the infinite with a noun, an adjective, and an adverb, and see which one sounds best. For example:

Noun: "Half our life is spent trying to find something hamburger with the time we have rushed through life trying to save." - Will Rogers

Adverb: "Half our life is spent trying to find something slowly with the time we have rushed through life trying to save." - Will Rogers

Adjective: "Half our life is spent trying to find something larger with the time we have rushed through life trying to save." - Will Rogers

It appears to me that the role of "to do" is that of an Adjective.

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