The theme of this lesson is infinitive… what is infinitive? 1) A poem from Giacomo Leopardi, which reads “Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle, e questa siepe, che da tanta parte dell’ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude…”. 2) The immense, inexhaustible, immesurable, unreachable, a question to which philosofers, thinkers and scientists have been trying to give an answer for centuries. These are all correct answers, but we are talking about italian grammar here! So, I’ll rephrase the question: what is infinitive in grammar? Read this article to find out everything there is to know regarding this topic!
The INFINITIVE in italian grammar
First of all, what is the infinitive in the italian language?
It is a mood that expresses the concept of a verb, without making neither the tense nor the person that takes the action explicit. For this reason, it is called “indefinite mood”. Just like infinitive, also gerund and participle are indefinite.
The italian infinitive only has two tenses: present and past.
- The present is the one we are used to since beginner level, which is the base form of the verb (mangiare, scrivere, dormire, sognare…).
- The past, on the other hand, is formed with the infinitive of the auxillary (essere or avere, depending on which of the two the verb requires) + the past participle of the verb.
What are the uses of the infinitive? Let’s take a look at them (no, they are not only uses “for beginners”)!
1 – Expressing the base form of the verb
Just to be clear, I’m talking about the one you find on the dictionary. Obviously, to form independent sentences that have sense and are grammaticaly correct, the verb, in most cases, has to be conjugated.
Mangiare —> Luca mangia una mela (not:
Luca mangiare una mela)
Dormire —> Io e mio fratello abbiamo dormito fino a tardi (not:
Io e mio fratello dormire fino a tardi)
2 – In independent sentences
Despite what we just said, there are cases in which it is possible to use the infinitive in independent sentences, which are senteces that do not depend on another sentence, that is to say another verb.
The infinitive is used in independent sentences to:
- Express doubt, in the form of a question introduced by CHE (Che fare? / Che dire?)
- Underline a sudden event, as if we were to point it out (Ecco arrivare il capo! Tutti ai propri posti di lavoro!)
- Express a wish that can’t come true (Ah, avere10 anni adesso! Starei sempre al parco a giocare con i miei amici!)
3 – With modal verbs
The infinitive is used immediatly after modal verbs (dovere, potere, volere, sapere). In this case, it will be that modal verb to express the tense and the person that takes the action.
Oggi devo lavorare.
Ieri non ho potuto guardare il film.
Il capo non vorrà darti l’aumento.
When we find ourselves in front of an infinitive accompanied by a pronoun, this must be put right after the infinitive, forming a single word (the infinitive, in this case, looses the -e).
So, we will have: vederti, farlo, mangiarle, vestirsi…
4 – With prepositions
The infinitive can also be preceded by a prepositions. In this case, there are two possibilities: the infinitive can depend directly on a noun or a verb.
- Examples of infinitive (preceded by a preposition) that depends on a noun:
Ho raccolto dei vestiti da donare in beneficienza.
Abbiamo terminato il progetto da consegnare al cliente domenica.
Hanno appena scritto una lettera da inviare ai loro parenti.
- Examples of infinitive (preceded by a preposition) that depends on a verb:
Vado a fare la spesa al supermercato tutte le settimane.
Prova a dormire almeno 8 ore per notte.
Ricordami di innaffiare le piante!
Non riesco a dormire.
These verbs, that require a certain preposition, always get foreign speakers confused. Sadly, there are often no rules that let us know which preposition supports a certain verb. Thus, in the majority of cases they have to be learned by memory.
To know more about these verbs and the prepositions they require, don’t forget to watch our video dedicated to this topic.
5 – In implicit forms
We use DI + infinitive also in implicit forms, instead of CHE + indicative/subjunctive.
This happens when the subject of both verbs, the one from the main sentence and the one from the subordinate sentence, is the same.
So che Paola è molto alta. (Io so – Paola è molto alta—> different subjects, explicit form with CHE + indicativo)
So di essere molto alta. (Io so – io sono molto alta —> same subject, implicit form with DI + infinito)
Credo che Paolo abbia la febbre. (Io credo – Paolo abbia la febbre —> different subjects, explicit form with CHE + congiuntivo)
Credo di avere la febbre. (Io credo – io ho la febbre—> same subject, implicit form with DI + infinito)
Penso che tu abbia esagerato con il vino. (Io penso – tu abbia esagerato —>different subjects, explicit form with CHE + congiuntivo)
Penso di aver esagerato con il vino. (Io penso – io ho esagerato —> same subject, implicit form with DI + infinito)
Do we say “avere esagerato” or “aver esagerato“?
Both are correct, but we tend to use “aver esagerato” more frequently (especially in spoken italian) because it makes pronounciation more fluent and armonic.
If you want to know more about this topic, let us know in the comments and we will have a lesson dedicated to it!
6 – With some conjunctions
We use the infinitive aften certain conjunctions too, like “prima di“, “senza” e “dopo“. Remember: the conjunction “dopo” requires the past infinitive (not the present!).
Potrai uscire con i tuoi amici solo dopo aver fatto i compiti.
Questa mattina sono uscita di casa senza essermi pettinata i capelli.
Prima di cenare, dobbiamo chiamare la nonna.
Mangia senza fare rumore!
7 – Infinitive noun
A really particular use of infinitive is the so called infinitive noun, which is the form of infinitive used as if it was a noun (so it functions as a subject, direct object, indirect object…)
The infinitive noun is used mostly if the verbs do not have a derived noun or if the derived noun is rarely used.
The infinitive noun is preceded by the definite article “il” (or “lo“); if it has subject value, however, the article is often omitted.
Ho chiuso con lo svegliarmi presto la mattina! (Used as an indirect object. What is the noun for “svegliarsi”? If you are thinking about “sveglia“, you would be incorrect because it refers to the object that rings at a set time to wake us up).
Con il passare del tempo, abbiamo notato dei cambiamenti in lui. (Used as an indirect object. What is the noun for “passare”? “passaggio“? It’s incorrect, because a “passaggio” is short trip offered as a favor on one’s own mean of transport).
Considero il tuo bere un po’ eccessivo. (Used as a direct object. What is the noun for “bere”? “bevimento“, “bevuta“? The first one doesn’t exist, while the second one refers to a particular event, rather then a permanent state!).
(Il) Mangiare bene fa vivere più a lungo. (Used as a subject. What is the noun for “mangiare”? “la mangiata“? A “mangiata” is an occasional abundant meal!).
8 – For instructions and orders
Lastly, we use the infinitive to give instructions and orders in a general sense (no, not to people in particular: in that case, we use the imperative), to indicate how something is to be done.
Here is why it is often found in recipies or instruction manuals.
Versare il latte nella ciotola.
Mettere nel forno.
Rompere le uova.
Attaccare il dispositivo alla corrente.
Accendere l’interruttore blu.
It is also necessary to say that we use the infinitive in negative imperative of the second person singular too.
If you want to know more, take a look at our lesson on italian imperative!
Well, that is all for this mood: let me know in the comments if is was useful and also tell me if you have any particular doubts or issues!
Also, don’t forget to find out what are the 17 italian verbs useful to conversate in italian in any context!
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