A (very) common verb is "to be", another is "to have". But you can also say that "have" is a common verb.

The question is, when does a verb (on its own) have to be preceded by the preposition "to"? Is it stylistic? Is there a rule?

  • 1
    Are you referring to mentions of verbs not to uses of verbs? For example, saying "Come and go are verbs of motion" instead of saying "To come and to go are verbs of motion."
    – tchrist
    Nov 24, 2015 at 11:11
  • @tchrist Yes. So theoretically, verbs in inverted commas.
    – Dog Lover
    Nov 24, 2015 at 11:14
  • To has grammaticalized into an infinitive marker in to be and is no longer a preposition. Since the two are separate words and to isn't part of the verb, it seems rather confused to refer to the verb as to be. Still, most people will understand what you mean because it's such a common practice.
    – user28567
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:14

2 Answers 2


No it doesn't. Many of the prototypical uses for the infintive (be or have or walk) are preceded by to; and, perhaps more to the point, there is so little verbal morphology left in English that if you cite have it may be unclear whether you are referring to the infinitive (as in I can have or in order to have) or to a finite verb form (such as I have or they have). So it is customary to cite the infinitive with to.

Whether an infinitive requires to before it in use depends on the syntactic context:

  • If you're treating it as a noun (as in To err is human) it always requires to.

  • After auxiliary verbs such as want, ought, and intend, after adjectives such as required, meant, compelled, after phrases like in order, it takes to.

  • After modal auxiliaries such as can, should, may, must, will, it does not take to.

  • And the words need and dare (sometimes called 'semi-modals') can take either, at least in some constructions: I need to go, Do you need to go? but (at least for some speakers) alternatively, Need you go?

Apart from this last case, it is not optional: some constructions require to, and others forbid it.

  • Your need construction: isn't that just treating the infinitive like a noun, the object of need? I need water. I need cheese. I need to go. Nov 24, 2015 at 14:00
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇: you could analyse it that way if you want; but that loses the parallel with want, ought etc.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 25, 2015 at 13:52

There are a few optional examples:

I helped John (to) decide where to have a holiday.

I assisted my mother (to) find a good restaurant.

John demanded Peter (to) pay back the money.

Alice requested John (to) make a cake.

  • Thanks for the answer, but I meant when the verb is used on its own, e.g. the verb have vs. the verb to have.
    – Dog Lover
    Nov 26, 2015 at 0:48

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