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In the first series of "Diary of wimpy kid" there is a following graph

Today we had Phys Ed, so the first thing I did when I got outside was sneak off to the basketball court to if the Cheese was still there

I kind of feel like "to" needs to be in there so it'd be like "was to sneak". At first I thought they jsut skipped it out of whim but on the following sentence it goes,

The only way to protect yourself from the Cheese Touch is to cross your fingers.

and now there is to + verb.

I feel like I'm missing something, was "sneak" in the above used as a past participle or is there a rule for when I can skip and when I cannot?

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  • Stoney B gives a more comprehensive overview at Can we use a bare infinitive after the copula freely? Jan 21, 2022 at 12:59
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    Adding to to your sentence would not change the meaning but it would give you an extra syllable, which may make the sentence sound better to you. That's one of the reasons why English has so many short optional words like that, is, to, be, for, the, etc. which may or may not show up, at the speaker's discretion. English teachers will try to tell you rules for them, but in fact everybody uses their own set of rules, which they make up themselves as children and are unaware of. Jan 21, 2022 at 15:44
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    Oh, and this isn't the "was to verb" format (as in Bill was to go yesterday, but the flight was cancelled). This is a clause in a cleft sentence with the first thing I did on one side of the fulcrum was and an infinitive clause on the other. Since the infinitive clause isn't the subject, the to is deletable. Jan 21, 2022 at 15:49
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    It's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". Very few native speakers would notice or care whether you included the optional infinitive marker to in your example context (as John says above, this one make no difference at all). But every native speaker would notice the egregious lack of that required article in the title. Jan 21, 2022 at 17:21

1 Answer 1

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As long as the relativized element in your subject is a form of do, you can have a plain infinitival clause (one headed by the base form of the verb and not introduced by subordinator to) following a a form of be.

[The thing I didn't want to do ____] [was] [start early].

Relative clause: I didn't want to do ___

This is very similar to a fused relative, which may sound better to your ears. All, the least are also very common.

What I didn't want to do was start early.

All I could do was throw my hands up.

The least I could do was donate some money.

In the example given from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the realtive clause would be

[the first thing I did when I got outside] was [sneak off to the basketball court]

I did ___ when I got outside

There has to be a relative clause with the complement of do as the relativized element for this to work.

*The first thing was sneak off to the basketball court.

The first thing was to sneak off to the basketball court.

Constructions of this sort are used across the spectrum:

The first thing she did was take the balsamic vinegar and separate it out from the rest. (FIC: North American Review; Fall2018, Vol. 303, Issue 4; Shrubs; GILBERT-COLLINS, SUSAN M.)

It replaced the Burlington station on the Montreal cable system. The first thing it did was get a post office box just over the border and start saying a few words in French during the on-air fund-raising campaigns. (NEWS: Christian Science Monitor; When Canadians Talk, PBS Stations Listen; 1990)

the one thing that he wanted to do was introduce and take through the House a Bill that would bring about a reduction in road traffic (HANSARD Corpus - British Parliament; road_traffic_reduction_national_targets_bill_hansard_24_april_1998_ ; Mr_Patrick_Nicholls)

More examples are easy to produce by searching for a form of 'be' followed by the base form of a common verb, like get, be, give etc.

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