Annie likes to dance

What part of speech is the word to?

Reopen note:

Merriam Webster lists it as a preposition and gives the following definition:

8 —used as a function word to indicate that the following verb is an infinitive < wants to go > and often used by itself at the end of a clause in place of an infinitive suggested by the preceding context < knows more than she seems to >

It doesn't seem to very convincing that to is a preposition when it occurs before a verb like this.

  • When to indicates that the following verb is an infinitive, it is generally called an infinitive marker. Search our site for infinitive marker and you will find various questions about how to as an infinitive marker.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 1, 2015 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


As used in your example, it's a subordinating conjunction (or subordinator for short). It's not actually part of the verb, contrary to what many user manuals will tell you!

  • that's made me so happy, remembering an argument at work where I insisted that "to boldly go" is not a split infinitive. Nov 29, 2015 at 15:09
  • I don't really think subordinating conjunction and subordinator are exchangeable once you start to include to as a subordinator. You seem to rather be taking someone's word for it when you make this claim of subordinator-hood for to too! It's a massively contentious proposal. Even Pullum, the other co-author of CaGEL, says that it is a non-finite modal verb. Perhaps you might like to explain why you feel it is a subordinator as an answer to this question here? Nov 29, 2015 at 15:22
  • Actually, I'd have to get it reopened first ... Nov 29, 2015 at 15:23
  • @Araucaria, CGEL (and thus Pullum) concludes that the infinitival marker "to" is a subordinator. Pullum did argue once that it was a defective auxiliary verb, but then stated that its semantic inertness, and occasional optionality ("He helped to clear up" = "He helped clear up"), and its failure to occur in independent clauses all make it look like a subordinator. Pullum issued a paper (last updated 6/14) which contained a tree diagram in which he labels it as 'Sub'.
    – BillJ
    Nov 29, 2015 at 18:20
  • 1
    @Araucaria I'll talk to GKP today and get his current opinion. Will let you know what he says.
    – BillJ
    Nov 30, 2015 at 8:33

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