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I'm confused about the following examples, and I'm pretty sure I've seen both of them in books and white papers.

  • What I have to do is find her.
  • What I have to do is to find her.
  • What I would like to do is to buy it.
  • What I would like to do is buy it

Can anyone please tell me which one is correct?

Many thanks

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Andrew Leach, Matt E. Эллен, tchrist, Robusto Mar 5 '13 at 13:08

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  • 1
    Though sentences of the type you list appear frequently, and though neither of these forms is grammatically wrong, I recommend checking to see whether you could get by with the stripped-down wording "I have to find her" (or "I would like to buy it") before committing to either of the longer forms. – Sven Yargs Mar 5 '13 at 5:15
  • I humbly recommend you review my answer to this, which I just posted under the "All you have to do is read" version of this question. – John M. Landsberg Mar 5 '13 at 6:56

The second option has a better meter and I would assume it would be more common than the first. However, you may prefer the first option if your stress falls more on "do" than on "have."

  • What I have to do is find her.
  • What I have to do is to find her.
  • I do not agree. The first example is more common, and I feel more comfortable saying it. You could, however, recast the second sentence and make it both correct and better sounding, (albeit not as good as example one): To find her is what I have to do. Or, Finding her is what I have to do. – rhetorician Mar 5 '13 at 3:49
  • I think it depends on how you stress the verbs. If your primary stress falls on "do" then the second option sounds better. If you stress "have," go with the first. – parap Mar 5 '13 at 4:15
  • @jcoat: I've put another example. – Thuan Mar 5 '13 at 4:25
  • @Thuan: The additional two examples you give are really the same as the first two. I still think examples one and four are better than examples two and three. – rhetorician Mar 5 '13 at 4:34
  • @Thuan same deal with the stress. – parap Mar 5 '13 at 4:47

Though both are correct, I would agree with @rhetorician's assessment - the flow is better without the extra word. Brevity is generally best when making a point; even more so when you're simply linking up verbs. The extra 'to' does not add anything to the sentence; it merely sits there, taking up space on the page and on the eyeball. I would also suggest alternative to your options:

What I would like is to buy it.

This option infers the 'to do', and would be much more acceptable in American English than British. That's not to say it would be incorrect in British English, but it is more of an American usage, as American usage favors shortening words and phrases whenever possible.

  • All that said, if you're getting ready for NaNoWriMo and trying to figure out how to cheat the numbers (for shame!), then stick with the middle options. They are correct, just wordy. – jimbotherisenclown Mar 5 '13 at 9:30

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