Is it appropriate to omit to after ought?

I ought to be disciplined for my insolence.


I ought be disciplined for my insolence.

Is it okay to omit the to?

  • 1
    I'm intrigued that negation affects my sense of how acceptable it is to omit "to". Although it's less common, I have no problem at all with You ought not do that. But, for example, You ought do that (which is far less common) sounds decidedly odd to me. – FumbleFingers Nov 9 '11 at 14:40
  • @FumbleFingers It does sound better when negative. I find that interesting. – user11550 Nov 9 '11 at 17:05
  • 1
    It sounds better because ought is a semantic modal auxiliary and omission of the to (i.e, treating the infinitive complement as a modal would and omitting to) is a negative polarity phenomenon, like the use of need and dare as modals: - *I need go ~ I need not go. (modal) - I need to go ~ I don't need to go. (non-modal) – John Lawler Nov 30 '11 at 20:04
  • More on Negative Polarity Items and Negation – John Lawler Nov 30 '11 at 20:10
  • Related: Infinitives with “ought not” – Matt E. Эллен May 24 '12 at 9:53

It's not typical.

The American Heritage Dictionary entry for ought has the following usage note:

Unlike other auxiliary verbs, ought usually takes to with its accompanying verb: We ought to go. Sometimes the accompanying verb is dropped if the meaning is clear: Should we begin soon? Yes, we ought to. In questions and negative sentences, especially those with contractions, to is also sometimes omitted: Oughtn't we be going soon? This omission of to, however, is not common in written English.


The omission of to is more frequent in American English. Quirk & al. (A Grammar of Contemporary English) say:

Ought regularly has the to-infinitive, but AmE occasionally has the bare infinitive in negative sentences and in questions (although should is commoner in both cases):
- You oughtn't smoke so much.
- Ought you smoke so much?

  • I must admit my first thought was those examples look archaic, rather than American. But some Americans are happy to omit "to be" in "my car needs washed", so perhaps that's a related [non-]usage. – FumbleFingers Jul 21 '12 at 3:46

British English requires the to-infinitive. (I didn't know until reading the above comments that American English allowed its omission.)

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