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The 'to infinitive' has the structure to + verb as in to go, to eat, to ride, etc. The word 'to' is thought to be a preposition. However, since a preposition needs an object and a verb cannot be an object, can 'to' be more of an adverb, since it modifies a verb in the structure? An adverb modifies a verb.

W R T: The word “to” in “to succeed” is a preposition-particle (some call it a particle, others a preposition – these really refer to the same thing); we see the following: A preposition needs an object which is related to a noun or a pronoun in a sentence to satisfy its definition.

An object in a sentence is also usually a noun or a pronoun; though there can be others like the 'that-clause', the 'where- clause, etc. The object receives the action done by the subject.

In a phrase like the following which has the 'to infinitive' [notice that 'to' is part of this verb phrase (and keeping in mind that a preposition usually does not modify a verb)] :i.e; in, I want to go; go is a verb and cannot be the object of the preposition.

In: I look forward to meeting you; 'meeting you' is not an object; etc.

Thus, since the to-infinitive has the structure: to + verb, and the verb cannot be an object- it is more of a state or intention or an action- 'to' in this structure cannot be a preposition. If it is definitely not a preposition then since it modifies a verb, indicating an 'intention', and an adverb by definition modifies a verb, 'to' is an adverb.

  • Give us a specific example. – Gary's Student Oct 24 '14 at 16:55
  • To is still a preposition. It goes with the preceding clause so it can have the verb after it. It in no way modifies or qualifies the verb, unlike an adverb. It helps as an alternative to using the gerund form of the verb at times. – Kris Oct 24 '14 at 17:00
  • Too is an adverb; to come to (to gain consciousness) is an adverb; to eat is possibly a preposition, or, perhaps better, an infinitive maker. – anongoodnurse Oct 24 '14 at 17:09
  • @Gary'sStudent: I assume this is about coffee to go, ticket to ride and the like. In which case it's kind of a duplicate of A coffee to go…( for syntax experts) – RegDwigнt Oct 24 '14 at 17:33
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    It would be simpler to invent a new term for "to" before an infinitive. I use infinitive-particle. With this term I avoid the complication you have when you call "to" before an infinitive a preposition. Historically the infinitive has noun character and "to" was a normal preposition. – rogermue Oct 24 '14 at 18:45
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The to in the full infinitive is considered a grammatical particle, i.e., a word that does not serve a part-of-speech function by itself, but only in combination with another word in the sentence.

  • More correctly, an "adverbial particle," according to that school of thought. That brings us back to square one: is it or is it not an adverb? This theory is no help in answering the present question. – Kris Oct 24 '14 at 17:27
  • How can something that does nothing be a modifier? – Kris Oct 24 '14 at 17:29
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    As I said, the particle by itself has no part-of-speech function. Therefore it makes no sense to call it "adverbial", "prepositional", or anything like that. The two words together, say "to eat", serve as a nonfinite verb. – Yoav Kallus Oct 24 '14 at 17:33
  • Other examples of particles are in some phrasal verbs, such as the word "up" in "he's given up on life." – Yoav Kallus Oct 24 '14 at 17:33

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