I am in communication with a friend who is learning English.

I noticed her using "to" in the wrong context, but I'm unable to explain which rule she is breaking.

I can't access to Gmail.

  • No, "to" is incorrect in both examples. You would need "to" only if written: "I need access to Gmail ..."
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 19:08
  • Thank you for the correction. --- However I'm still curious which rule the first example is breaking. So I will remove my mistaken second example, to reduce confusion and distraction.
    – Ademos
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 19:15

4 Answers 4


"Access" can be either a transitive verb or a noun depending on context, and "to" can be either a preposition or a particle indicating an infinitive, and your friend is mixing up the uses.

"Access" as noun:

I need access.

I cannot get access.

"Access" as verb:

I cannot access Gmail.

"To" as preposition:

I need access to Gmail.

I cannot get access to Gmail.

"To" indicating an infinitive:

I need to access Gmail to send this report.

I need Gmail access to send this report.

I need to access Gmail for sending this report.

  • Thank you for providing so many examples. ---- I am unfamiliar with much of the English grammar terminology people have been using in their answers. (such as "indicating an infinitive") But your generous list of examples has given me a starting point in understanding the many English grammar terms. --- I now understand why I couldn't answer my friend's question; because there is much about English grammar terminology, that I haven't studied yet.
    – Ademos
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 0:27
  • I don't know if there's a US/UK difference there, but I don't think many/any Brits would say "I need to access Gmail for sending this report". I can't put my finger on why exactly - "I need internet access for emailing" sounds okay(-ish) to me, but "I need internet access for emailing this report" sounds worse, and "I need to access the internet for emailing this report" worse still. Personally I'd tend to discard the actual word "access" in all "noun" usages (where Gmail effectively means Gmail access, or access to Gmail anyway). Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 1:14
  • Did you say if "I can't access to Gmail." is grammatically correct? If so, how, and else, why? I suppose those were the OP's questions. In fact, the OP presumes it is incorrect and asks how and why it is so (per title of the OP).
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 4:52

The reason that to is wrong in the original sentence is because the verb access is constructed with a direct object: I can't access the Internet right now.

When access is a noun, then you need to: Disabled people should have easy access to museums and galleries.

  • Thank you for the answer, but a problem remains. My friend will inevitably ask "How will I know, when access is a noun?"
    – Ademos
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 19:38
  • @Ademos: Give your friend two examples to explain. I can't access Gmail: access is used as a verb. I can't get access to Gmail: the verb phrase here is can't get, making access a noun.
    – Irene
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 19:43
  • @Ademos: Tell your friend that in standard English the word that follows the subject ("I" in this case) is usually functioning as a verb. And point out that can and can't are usually just "helper" verbs that come before the main verb ("access" in this case). Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 19:43
  • Irene: Thanks for clarifying. Your answer was helpful, but Choster provided so many examples that even my inquisitive friend will understand. --- @FumbleFingers: Thanks for explaining about the "helper" verbs.
    – Ademos
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 0:23
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: Thanks for the warning. But my friend always has her dictionary close by, so I'm sure she'll do that automatically.
    – Ademos
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 0:57

"to" is a preposition which can be used to indicate that a noun is the indirect object of a verb, rather than the direct object. For example, consider the sentence: "I am sending a letter to my friend". The verb is "sending". The direct object of this verb -- the thing being sent -- is "a letter". The indirect object, in this case, the thing receiving the letter, is "my friend".

In your example, "access" is a verb and Gmail is the direct object of "access". Therefore, no "to" is called for because there is no indirect object.

The example is, perhaps, confusing because someone could also say "I need access to Gmail", in which case the "to" would be correct. But note that in this sentence, the verb is "need" and "access" is a noun. "access" is the direct object of "need". The two examples can be misleading because in the first case, "access" is a verb, but in the second case, it is a noun. "to Gmail" in this case is a prepositional phrase functioning as an adjective modifying "access". This is a completely different function of the word "to" than its use indicating an indirect object.

  • Thank you for mentioning the confusing aspects of the grammar rules. --- Combining the last part of your answer with choster's answer, will provide me with much detail when explaining this to my friend.
    – Ademos
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 0:16

Your friend associates it with "I can't connect to Gmail."

Access is akin to but different from connect to.

  • Aha, my friend probably intended to say "connect" rather than "access." Thank you for your observation.---- However, her next question would likely be, "why can't I use 'access' in this situation?" --- So I chose choster's answer, since he/she provided many useful examples.
    – Ademos
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 0:19

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