Is there a rule governing when it is acceptable to position two infinitives in a row?

E.g.: The witness plans to refuse to testify.

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    Seems like once you got into a third level you couldn't use just infinitives: "The witness refuses to consider to agree to testify" < bad. "The witness refuses to consider agreeing to testify." I don't really know the applicable rules tho so I'll leave it to another to answer! Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 14:24
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    I wonder if there's really any special restriction on infinitives? As with, say, nested genitives ("the girl next door's uncle's godfather's mother-in-law"), provided that the sentence is actually grammatical, then it's more a question of when you reach practical limits of how many 'nested items/ideas' can be processed in a given context. But it's not clear to me that infinitives constitute a special case as such. Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 15:00
  • @sequoiamcdowell, The problem with that sentence is that consider to agree is ungrammatical all by itself—*consider* doesn’t take an infinitive. So it really doesn’t have anything to do with chains of infinitives. Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 22:20
  • Incidentally—I think I remember reading that there is no easy rule that tells which verbs take an infinitive (plan to clean up), which ones take a present participle (consider cleaning up), which ones take the plain verb (help clean up), and which don’t take a second verb at all (* scheme to clean up). That means that if you’re a native speaker, you’ve just memorized them. Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 22:32

2 Answers 2


There is no grammatical limit. The sentence could continue The witness refuses to consider to agree to testify to help to free . . . However, anyone writing like that would quickly try the patience of the reader.

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    +1 for trying patience. For informal (non-legal) writing I might set an -- arbitrary -- limit around five or six consecutive infinitive clauses, if only for readability's sake. Just keep in mind you're pushing it if you're using more than three for most situations. Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 17:56
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    Barrie, your example sounds off to me, because of consider. I don’t think consider can take an infinitive complement (except in the idiom consider X to be Y, but of course that’s another story). Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 22:23
  • But will he be likely to continue to refuse to try to consider to begin to negotiate to testify to start to help to arrange to free the accused? Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 1:49
  • You're right, Jason, it was a poor example. The point remains, however, that there is not a grammatical limit, even if there is a lexical one. Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 7:41
  • @BarrieEngland Perhaps change the answer to make it more correct? Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 18:28

No. This is a style choice. Once you get past two infinitives, however, you might start considering revisions, simply for the sake of flow and ease of reading.

E.g.: 3 infinitives: The witness refuses to consider to agree to testify. 2: The witness refuses to consider agreeing to testify. 1: The witness won't consider agreeing to testify.

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