Talk to him is what I did.

(this sentence is from forum.wordreference.com)

"Talk" is a verb here that is not in the imperative mood. I suppose, it's in the infinitive form. But then how can it stand alone, without "to"?

What will be if we add "to" to "talk"?

To talk to him is what I did.

If we can do so, then what will difference be between the initial sentence and the new one with "to"?

Maybe, there are some omitted words, after inserting which the sentence will immediately become understandable? I mean, maybe, there is an ellipsis?


To make it clearer:

Upd.1: if we type "bare infinitive" in google, we can't find any sites that could explain the absence from "to" before "talk".

Upd.2: Why can we replace "to talk" with only "talk" in "To talk to him is what I did."

Upd.3: I have my own logic but I don't know whether it's right or not:

1) I think that without an ellipsis "Talk to him is what I did." is to look like "I did talk to him is what I did do."

2) Also I know that we can't use "to" before "read" in "What we must do is read the manual." because in the left part we don't have "to" before "do".

By this logic, we can't use "to" before "talk" in "Talk to him is what I did." because in "what I did do" we don't have "to" before "do".

Am I right or not?

  • Starting with "I talked to him", that can be phrased as "I did talk to him" which leads to "Talk to him is what I did." Such phrasing isn't usual. – Weather Vane Jun 26 '19 at 17:24
  • Weather Vane, I can't understand how "I did talk to him" leads to "Talk to him is what I did." – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 17:26
  • The sentence is inverted. – Weather Vane Jun 26 '19 at 17:26
  • Weather Vane, ok, let's invert it back: "What I did is talk to him." How could this version help us to answer the questions in the OP? – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 17:35
  • Your question is very confusing. Please clarify it. – Lambie Jun 26 '19 at 19:08

The regular order here is:

  • What I did was talk to him.
  • What I did is talk to him.
  • What I saw was a lion in the tree.
  • How he came was by bus.
  • What we did was complain a lot.
  • What I did was talk.

Now, when the verb is BE, you can invert the noun phrases on either side of it. Think of the verb was here as an equals' sign. All of the examples above can be reworded.

  • Talk to him was what I did.
  • Talk to him is what I did.
  • A lion in the tree is what I saw.
  • By bus was how he came.
  • Complain a lot was what we did.
  • Talk was what I did.

The verb be can be in the present or past. The second noun phrase can be placed in initial position. This type of style change is used for emphasis.

If you say "Talk to him was what I did", the talking is more important to you than the doing as in "What I did was talk to him". So, which form you use depends on what you want to stress.

This is called copular inversion.

EDIT: Any action verb can be used in these inversions. It is not necessary to use "talk to him". Just talk on its own can be used.

copular inversion

  • You wrote some interesting information, part of which I will definitely record in my copybook. But I don't quite understand how this information is supposed to help me answer the questions in the OP. Anyway, thank you! – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 18:10
  • You are the OP, original poster. You said: But then how can it stand alone, without "to"? But there is the preposition to. So what exactly do you mean?? Talk is what I did. What I did was talk. Same idea, no to. [grammar of your question: What will be if we add "to" to "talk"//should be: What would it be or what is it if....what will be is not right.] – Lambie Jun 26 '19 at 18:36
  • Lambie, I meant: "To talk to him is what I did.", i.e. "to" before the infinitive. I added this sentence to the OP (original post) in order to make it clearer. – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 19:14
  • That would be grammatically correct but stylistically heavy. A native speaker when speaking most likely would not say it like that. What I did was to talk to him. fine, but very heavy. Lighter: Talk to him was what I did. – Lambie Jun 26 '19 at 19:16
  • Lambie, but why is it correct without "to"? Why can we use the bare infinitive here? – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 19:17

English Syntax & Argumentation, by Bas Aarts (1997; 2001), gives a list of the different ways the subject of a sentence may be realised, though in a later edition (2013) he argues that the bare infinitive clause is best not interpreted as the subject of the sentence below:

Nonfinite clauses functioning as Subject

(2) Bare infinitive clauses functioning as [?/*]Subject (rather rare & informal)

(27) Party the night away is a nice thing to do.

However, Aarts says that the earlier analysis, not the example, should be seen as incorrect here. I can't access the relevant material, but he is now almost bound to agree that subject-complement inversion has taken place here. In OP's example, of a what-clefted sentence.

Bare infinitives themselves may appear as 'pseudo-subjects':

Drink is what he does.

Obey was all they could do.

  • Sorry, what does "what-clefted" mean? – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 19:52
  • 3
    @Loviii: it refers to a transformation, also called Wh-Cleft and Pseudo-Cleft, which relates a sentence like Helen called the police to a sentence like What Helen did was call the police, which means the same thing but puts a more significant lead-in to the verb phrase. There are several variant forms of cleft sentences, like It-Clefts: It was Helen that called the police and It was the police that Helen called. – John Lawler Jun 26 '19 at 20:12
  • John Lawler, "(To) talk to him is what I did." , "What Helen did was (to) call the police" , "(To) party the night away is a nice thing to do.". As I understand in all these three sentences we can use the variants both with "to" and without "to". And the variants without "to" are more natural than with "to". Am I right? – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 20:33
  • I added all my thoughts at the ending of the original post below the word "Upd.3". Look at them please, are they right? – Loviii Jun 26 '19 at 21:26

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