When I was taught English (as a foreign language) I was told that there are two ways of putting verbs together:

  • learn to play (to + infinitive)
  • quit smoking (gerund)

Some verbs require one way and some require the other.

However, after some language practice, as far as I can tell help" is the only verb that allows omitting to (i.e. help achieve instead of help to achieve).

I’ve already learnt that languages and reason are most of the time incompatible, so I’m not asking for reasons why this is the case with help - it’s very likely that there is no answer to that.

What I’m asking is: Are there any other verbs like this?

  • That's a very interesting answer, @tchrist. Lots of good data. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 15:39

2 Answers 2


The modal verbs are an odd bunch.

Do, can, must and the like don’t use to before another verb:

I can achieve
I did achieve [used for emphasis]
I must achieve

Have is used only as an auxiliary (“have achieved”) or as the phrasal verb have to [ODO: sense 3] which means must. Will is similarly a future-tense indicator (“will achieve”).

Other verbs which do not allow the particle to are make, let, hear and see.

However, help is the only verb where the particle to can be included or omitted with no (or virtually no) difference in meaning.

There is some discussion at “What is the correct way to use the infinitive after the verb ‘help’?”

  • Thank you for this, of course I did not mean modal verbs as they fall in neither of the two patterns I described. Modal verbs are a different story altogether. But the link you gave is most educational and you did give an answer to my question. Thanks. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 7:40
  • Do and have are auxiliaries, like modals, but they aren't actually modal verbs; that's a very specific semantic class. You're certainly correct that they're odd, though. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 15:00
  • As for to-deletion, it happens pretty frequently after verbs like the ones Bas lists that are getting used more in constructions as auxiliary verbs. Thereby they tend to lose their ordinary semantics -- the process is called "semantic bleaching", and you can see, for instance, how have has mostly lost its 'possess' sense due to its more frequent use as an auxiliary. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 15:04

Bas Aarts, Oxford Modern English Grammar, gives the following list, which is not exhaustive:

  • feel
  • have
  • hear
  • let
  • make
  • notice
  • observe
  • see
  • watch

Three of these have an effective sense (“Let my people go”, “The Devil made me do it!”, “I will have my assistant find that for you.” ). The rest are all verbs of perception (“She felt/heard/noticed/observed/saw/watched him take her bag”), which can also be used with gerunds. Some other verbs of perception which work this way are sense, witness, perceive, but these rarely employ the infinitive.

  • I never know where Bas gets his data. Have, for instance, can't take an infinitive without to. Example sentences are much more useful than lists of verbs with claimed but not demonstrated properties. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 15:37
  • @JohnLawler I'll have him do it. I missed that on his list, so I'll rewrite. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 17:25
  • These are all B-configuration phrase structures? Some of these are likely to be Equi and some Raising; I haven't checked. There are several distinct cyclic constructions (or rules) involved, all governed by matrix verbs. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 18:22
  • @Johnlawler In another week I will understand what you are saying, but not yet: I only got McCawley 1998 yesterday (on your recommendation) and I'm now halfway through Ch. II. But he's fun, and he writes actual English. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 18:26
  • Yes, it makes a difference to have a good author who sticks to the point throughout. And he is indeed fun. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 18:29

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