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I have read that after 'but', 'except', 'than', bare Infinitive (i.e., Infinitive without 'to') is used. But I am confused which one is correct: (1) We want nothing but to be free. OR, We want nothing but be free. (2) Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven. OR, Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. (3) He does everything except/but finish his homework. OR, He does everything except/but to finish his homework. Please clarify it with proper grammatical rule.

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I have read that after but, except, than, bare Infinitive (i.e., Infinitive without to) is used.

  • Parenthetically (People always say they have read, or have heard, or a friend told them, about these rules, but they never say where or who. Very curious. Is there a Deep State Grammar that keeps ELU questions coming?)

This is a rather silly rule and does not state anything correctly. You should not trust the source.

First, grammar doesn't work like that. It's not a matter of words on a string, with everything depending on the word before it. It's much more like tracking your thoughts, with many things happening simultaneously, forming multi-dimensional matrices. Linear it ain't.

Second, the type of complementizer used in a clause (like infinitive, with or without to) is generally dependent on the verb (or predicate adjective) that governs the complement clause. It is not governed by adverbs or conjunctions.

Third, but, except, and than are all quite different. But means the same as and, with an added presupposition of surprise. Except is a negative trigger, and than only occurs in comparative constructions, which involve two quantifiers and a negative.

These constructions all have very peculiar syntax, depending on the context and the verbs they're used with. The words mentioned shouldn't be considered alone -- they mean little or nothing alone; they're just part of the construction machinery -- and grammatical rules should not be based on random words, only on constituents and constructions.

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  • But it is not clear which ones of the given sentences are correct. – Sandip Kumar Mandal May 2 at 4:43
  • Yes, because there is no special rule, the sentences are out of context, and you can't teach English one sentence at a time. – John Lawler May 2 at 15:21

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