13

Is it appropriate to omit to after ought?

I ought to be disciplined for my insolence.

Vs.

I ought be disciplined for my insolence.

Is it okay to omit the to?

6
  • 2
    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. Nov 9, 2011 at 14:40
  • @FumbleFingers It does sound better when negative. I find that interesting.
    – user11550
    Nov 9, 2011 at 17:05
  • 2
    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) Nov 30, 2011 at 20:04
  • More on Negative Polarity Items and Negation Nov 30, 2011 at 20:10
  • Related: Infinitives with “ought not” May 24, 2012 at 9:53

4 Answers 4

8

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.

6

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?

4
  • 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. Jul 21, 2012 at 3:46
  • @FumbleFingers: I'd say that they're unrelated; the lack of to in AmEng ought constructions is a completely different absence than the lack of to be in the Western Pennsylvania needs verbed construction. Nov 5, 2021 at 18:51
  • @PeterShor: In retrospect, I suppose that's obvious (even Pennsylvanians don't say My car needs be washed, regardless of whatever other "syntactic shortcomings" they tolerate! :) But your ping here led me to re-examine your answer to the earlier question about negating contexts. The NGram link is dead, so I can't see exactly how you made your chart (implying that we're just as likely to omit to as include it, in contexts like You ought not [to] do that), but... Nov 6, 2021 at 13:27
  • ...this is my chart, which shows that we nearly always do include the infinitive marker there. And I see no significant difference between BrE and AmE corpuses for that chart. Nov 6, 2021 at 13:28
3

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

0

The use of ought w/out the "to' is a lovely locution when the underlying intention is imperative. "My name ought be included" = "Include my name." I vote for its acceptance.

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