Duplicate of:
What is the correct way to use infinitive after the verb “help”: with or without “to”?
“Could help avoid” vs. “could help to avoid”
“Helping you do something” or “Helping you to do something”?
Infinitive without “to”?
Is it correct to say “John helps you talk with people”?

My sentence fragment possibilities are

  • ... can help rule out false alarms
  • ... can help to rule out false alarms

I feel like both are technically correct, and that the latter sounds somewhat more formal while the former may be a little more clear. I often come upon the general issue of when to use "to [verb]" or just "[verb]" — is there a general rule? Is only one of them actually correct?

(Even if someone can explain how to describe the difference between these cases would be appreciated, i.e. "infinitive vs. ____" )


1 Answer 1


Either an unmarked infinitive (an infinitive without a to complementizer), or a marked infinitive with to will work. Here. Since the matrix verb is help.

But that's only true with help.

Every English verb is has its own rules for what kinds of Object Complement clauses it permits, requires, or forbids. See here for Subject and here for Object Complement examples.

As I used to tell my grammar classes, verbs have more fun.

  • Is it really true that help is the only English verb that accepts an "unmarked infinitive Object Complement"? The fact that I can't think of another doesn't convince me (I can't name a single American football player, but I know they exist). Seriously, if that is the case, surely there must be some reason. What's different about "help"? Jul 20, 2012 at 2:12
  • I really wish I was actually taught english at some point in my 17 years of american education. @JohnLawler, as a teacher, do you have a grammar book that you might suggest to pick up these slightly more advanced rules of english grammar? Jul 20, 2012 at 2:38
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: No, there are probably others. But in general, every verb has a different pattern. zhermes: I can recommend Jim McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English, but I wouldn't call it "slightly more advanced". It's a college-level textbook, and it's about as long and hard as (say) a textbook in vector calculus, which is not what you really want to take on right after 5th-grade arithmetic. But 5th-grade grammar is about the level of sophistication most Americans get to. Jul 20, 2012 at 3:41
  • 1
    I'm still battling my way through McCawley - the material is certainly dense for me, but taken in context I think he has an excellent lucid style. The headline concept I'm getting from him so far is the centrality of "transformations" in establishing affordances and underlying structure. Plus, of course, the importance of collecting real data on what people say and find acceptable, as opposed to what grammarians think is "correct". Jul 20, 2012 at 11:32

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