Easy Learning Italian

The Infinitive - Easy Learning Grammar Italian

What is the infinitive?
In English the infinitive is the basic form of the verb, for example, walk, see, hear. It is used after other verbs such as should, must and can. The infinitive is often used with to: to speak, to eat, to live.

1  Using the infinitive

  • In English the infinitive may be one word, for example, speak, or two words, for example, to speak. In Italian the infinitive is always one word, and is the verb form that ends in –are, –ere, or –ire, for example, parlare (meaning to speak), credere (meaning to believe), finire (meaning to finish). The final –e of the infinitive ending is sometimes dropped.
  • Note that there are a few verbs with infinitives ending in –urre, for example, tradurre (meaning to translate), produrre (meaning to produce) and ridurre (meaning to reduce). –urre verbs follow the pattern of produrre, which you can find in the verb tables in the middle section of the book.
  • The infinitive is the form of the verb shown in dictionaries.
  • In Italian the infinitive is used in the following ways:
  • after adjectives and nouns that are followed by di
Sono contento di vederti.I’m glad to see you.
Sono sorpreso di vederti qui.I’m surprised to see you here.
Sono stufo di studiare.I’m fed up of studying.
Ho voglia di uscireI feel like going out.
Non c’è bisogno di prenotare.There’s no need to book.
  • after another verb
Non devi andarci se non vuoi.You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.
Posso entrare?Can I come in?
Cosa ti piacerebbe fare?What would you like to do?
Preferisce spendere i suoi soldi in vestiti.He prefers to spend his money on clothes.
  • to give instructions and orders, particularly on signs, on forms, and in recipes and manuals
Rallentare.Slow down.
Spingere.Push.
Scaldare a fuoco lento per cinque minuti.Heat gently for five minutes.
  • to tell someone you call tu not to do something
Non fare sciocchezze!Don’t do anything silly!
Non toccarlo!Don’t touch it!

2  Infinitive or gerund?

  • In English, prepositions such as before, after and without, are followed by the -ing form of the verb, for example, before leaving, after eating.
  • In Italian prepositions are followed by the infinitive.
Prima di aprire il pacchetto, leggi le istruzioni.Before opening the packet, read the instructions.
È andato via senza dire niente.He went away without saying anything.
Dopo aver telefonato è uscita.After making a phone call she went out.
  • In English the -ing form of the verb can be used as a noun, for example, They enjoy dancing. In Italian the infinitive, not the gerund, is used as a noun.
Ascoltare la musica è rilassante.Listening to music is relaxing.
Camminare fa bene.Walking is good for you.
TipRemember to use the infinitive with mi piace when saying what activities you like:
Mi piace cavalcare.I like riding.
Grammar Extra!As well as the ordinary infinitive there is also the perfect infinitive. In English this is made with the infinitive have + the past participle, for example He could have done better; He claims to have seen an eagle. In Italian the perfect infinitive is made with avere or essere + the past participle.
Può aver avuto un incidente.He may have had an accident.
Dev’essere successo ieri.It must have happened yesterday.
Key points
  • In Italian the infinitive is one word.

3  Linking verbs together

  • In English both the infinitive and the –ing form can follow after another verb, for example, Do you want to come?; They stopped working.
  • In Italian only the infinitive can follow another verb. Verbs are generally linked
    to the infinitive in one of these three ways:
  • directly
Volete aspettare?Do you want to wait?
  • with the preposition a
Hanno cominciato a ridere.They started to laugh.
  • with the preposition di
Quando sono entrato hanno smesso di parlare.When I came in they stopped talking.
  • Other linking prepositions are sometimes used, for example, stare per far qualcosa (meaning to be about to do something).
Stavo per uscire quando ha squillato il telefono.I was about to go out when the phone rang.

4  Verbs that are not linked to the infinitive by a preposition

  • A number of very common verbs are followed directly by the infinitive:
  • dovere to have to, must
È dovuto partire.He had to leave.
Dev’essere tardi.It must be late.
  • potere can, may
Non posso aiutarti.I can’t help you.
Potresti aprire la finestra?Could you open the window?
Potrebbe essere vero.It might be true.
  • sapere to know how to, can
Sai farlo?Do you know how to do it?
Non sapeva nuotare.He couldn’t swim.
  • volere to want
Voglio comprare una macchina nuova.I want to buy a new car.
Tipvoler dire (literally to want to say) is the Italian for to mean.
Non so che cosa vuol dire.I don’t know what it means.
  • verbs such as piacere, dispiacere and convenire
Mi piace andare in bici.I like cycling.
Ci dispiace andar via.We’re sorry to be leaving.
Ti conviene partire presto.You’d best set off early.
  • vedere (meaning to see), ascoltare (meaning to listen to) and sentire (meaning to hear)
Ci ha visto arrivare.He saw us arriving.
Ti ho sentito cantare.I heard you singing.
L’abbiamo ascoltato parlare.We listened to him talking.
  • fare (meaning to make) and lasciare (meaning to let)
Non mi far ridere!Don’t make me laugh!
Lascia fare a me.Let me do it.
  • Note that far fare qualcosa and farsi fare qualcosa both mean to have something done:
Ho fatto riparare la macchina.I had the car repaired.
Mi sono fatta tagliare i capelli.I had my hair cut.
  • The following common verbs are also followed directly by the infinitive:
bisognareto be necessary
desiderareto want
odiareto hate
preferireto prefer
Odio alzarmi presto al mattino.I hate getting up early in the morning.
Desiderava migliorare il suo inglese.He wanted to improve his English.
Bisogna prenotare.You need to book.
Preferisco non parlarne.I prefer not to talk about it.

5  Verbs followed by a and the infinitive

  • Some very common verbs can be followed by a and the infinitive:
andare a fare qualcosato go to do something
venire a fare qualcosato come to do something
imparare a fare qualcosato learn to do something
cominciare a fare qualcosato start doing or to do something
continuare a fare qualcosato go on doing something
abituarsi a fare qualcosato get used to doing something
riuscire a fare qualcosato manage to do something
Sono venuti a trovarci.They came to see us.
Siamo riusciti a convincerla.We managed to persuade her.
Dovrò abituarmi ad alzarmi presto.I’ll have to get used to getting up early.
  • As in English, you can put an object between the verb and the infinitive:
aiutare qualcuno a fare qualcosato help somebody to do something
invitare qualcuno a fare qualcosato invite somebody to do something
insegnare a qualcuno a fare qualcosato teach somebody to do something
  • Note that insegnare takes an indirect object.
Hanno invitato Lucia a sedersi al loro tavolo.They invited Lucia to sit at their table.
Ho aiutato mamma a lavare i piatti.I helped mum wash up.
Ha insegnato a mio fratello a nuotare.He taught my brother to swim.

5  Verbs followed by di and the infinitive

  • The following are the most common verbs that can be followed by di and the infinitive:
cercare di fare qualcosato try to do something
decidere di fare qualcosato decide to do something
dimenticare di fare qualcosato forget to do something
smettere di fare qualcosato stop doing something
ricordarsi di aver fatto qualcosato remember having done something
negare di aver fatto qualcosato deny doing something
Cerca di smettere di fumare.He’s trying to stop smoking.
Ho deciso di non andarci.I decided not to go.
Non mi ricordo di aver detto una cosa del genere.I don’t remember saying anything like that.
Ho dimenticato di prendere la chiave.I forgot to take my key.
TipLearn the linking preposition that goes with important verbs.
Key points
  • Italian verbs can be followed by the infinitive, with or without a linking preposition.
  • Italian verbs are not followed by the gerund.

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