The function of infinitives seems to be up for grabs at the last post I commented at. I either need to be schooled or my interlocutors do. May your answers bring some clarity.

These are your choices. There are eight: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection.

Avoid answers like: subject, predicate, direct/indirect object, complement, etc. These are not parts of speech.

The last post: What is the part of speech is "the door" in the sentence below?

Some definitions (premises):

1.A verbal is a verb form that functions as another part of speech, i.e., nouns or modifiers (adjectives or adverbs).

2.Infinitives are a subset of verbals.


3.Infinitives (yes, composed of two words) function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

As far as I know, these are standard definitions and noncontroversial. I'm simply asking, based on these definitions what part of speech is "to hunt" functioning as in my sentence. I don't know if people are unaware of these definitions or I am seriously missing something, but no one seems to be able to pull the trigger and simply identify an infinitive in a sentence as either a noun, adjective, or adverb though this type of analysis is everywhere on the web and in the grammars on my desk. People seem to be stuck on saying these are verbs because of their form (which is understandable) but ignoring that they are verbals, which never function as verbs. Others forgo parts of speech altogether and jump to sentence analysis, i.e., subject/predicate/D.O./I.O./ complements and so forth.

I believe the fact that an English infinitive technically has two words is incidental and doesn't inhibit it from being analyzed a single part of speech (German, Latin, Spanish, French all have single word infinitives). Wouldn't it be odd that in all these languages, their infinitives could be analyzed as a part of speech because they are single words, but because English has an additional "infinitive marker" we can't? The fact that the "to" (when combined with an infinitive) is not identified as a part of speech should be the clue that it is uniquely bound to the infinitive and that both are functioning as a single word (and please don't say "to," in this case, is a preposition ).

So I'm ready to find better web sources and burn my grammars if someone who knows grammar better than me can resolve this. Thanks to those who have already commented.

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    Thank you for your ques­tion. As asked, it can have no an­swer be­cause parts of speech ap­ply only to in­di­vid­ual words, not to mul­ti­word phrases like “to eat” or “to town”. In­fini­tive clauses are a nom­i­nal el­e­ment in­so­far as they can be serve as NPs to ful­fil the gram­mat­i­cal roles of sub­ject or ob­ject in­clud­ing prepo­si­tional ones as in “for him to give a dog a bone”, but that no more makes them a noun than it does a gerund clause like “giv­ing a dog a bone”. Clauses and phrases can­not “have” a part of speech; only sin­gle words can.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 20:26
  • Yes. Good point. Once we are talking phrases or clauses, we slip in their "part of speech" function by saying we have an "adjectival phrase" or "adverbial clause." But what if you are simply identifying each word in the sentence and labeling it as a part of speech. Using your gerund phrase, wouldn't you write "noun" under "giving," and if not, what would you write and why?
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 1:23
  • In “giv­ing a dog a bone” you have a verb tak­ing both a di­rect ob­ject (the bone) and an in­di­rect one (the dog who gets that bone). Noth­ing but verbs act like that, so it is a verb. I’m afraid that so long as you are trapped look­ing only at parts of speech in­stead of higher-level syn­tac­tic con­stituents such as NPs, you will unerringly lead your­self into the shadow of the val­ley of dead para­doxes whence there is no es­cape. Don’t go there, for down that path lies mad­ness. Also mad lies.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 1:26
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    Sup­pose your sen­tence added just one word to it: “To hunt rats is my fa­vorite pas­time.“ Does that change any­thing? What about two more words out in front: For me to hunt cats would get me in trou­ble with my neigh­bors.” Any en­light­en­ment yet? :) As you see, by insisting that to hunt “must be” a “noun”, you have backed your­self into the para­dox that to hunt rats and for me to hunt cats “must” also “be” “nouns”. That is why this does not work. You have to call those in­fin­i­tive clauses, which are here acting as NPs so that they can be the sen­tence sub­ject.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 1:49
  • True, except for verbals, which again are verb forms functioning as something other than verbs...by definition. Even though a gerund (which is a verbal) functions as a noun in the sentence, because it's derived from a verb it can still take direct objects. I could just as easily say, "Only nouns or pronouns function as subjects of sentences" so check out "Giving is a virtue." Here we have another gerund. Would you identify "giving" as a verb in the sentence? Would the part of speech change if we added "money" as "Giving money is a virtue." BTW, I really appreciate this exchange.
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 1:55

2 Answers 2


Having read the other post referred to, along with its comments, it seems that there are different schools involved here... Personally, I'd say that to hunt is not a part of speech in the first place – it's an infinitive clause, consisting of two formal parts: an infinitive marker (to) and a verb (hunt). So, an approximate answer here would be that the part of speech of hunt (without the infinitive marker) is a verb.

However, judging from the comments to the other post you're referring to, there seems to be another school, which seems to use the term part of speech in a different sense, viz meaning 'clause element', i.e. referring to the function in the clause. With this interpretation to hunt would obviously be a subject though, so it's difficult to give a straight answer to the original question even with this interpretation, seeing that "subject" is not allowed as an answer...

So, Joseph O, do you have a third take on this, seeing that you seem to have the same view as me when it comes to what constitutes a part of speech (judging from your examples – noun, verb...), but still ask about a constituent that is (in its entirety) clearly NOT a part of speech in this view? What reference works do you adhere to?

  • Your first instincts are correct: one can only assign a part of speech to a single word, not to multiple words taken together as a syntactic constituent. The asker may be confused about grammatical roles versus parts of speech; if so, this is a common confusion.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 20:18
  • @tchrist yeah, but then the asker also distinctly says that functions are NOT parts of speech, so it seems to be more complicated than that...
    – Hannah
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 20:19
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    Then I don’t understand what he’s asking. I’ve asked the asker to clarify his question.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 20:26
  • @Hannah Thanks for your answer. But where did I say "functions are NOT parts of speech"?
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 2:56
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    @JosephO. Also, I'd still very much like to know what reference works you're using – "the grammars on my desk" that you are referring to – because they seem to mix things in a whole different way than I myself am used to :)
    – Hannah
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 9:53

It is the Infinitive, which is one of the infinite verb forms, or verbals / like Gerund and Participles/. In the sentence 'To hunt' is used as the Subject of the sentence. According to Wiktionary: the Infinitive is used to express a thing in a general manner. This meaning is traced back to the Old English language / and to the Proto-Germanic language/ when the Infinitive was declinable, which proves its nominal origin.

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