§ 182.The infinitive is generally preceded by the particle to in
this function and in most cases expresses an action which follows
that of the link-verb.
The link-verb in sentences with the infinitive as predicative is
always to be.
e.g. His highest ambition was to writea monumental work on art.
The job of a reporter is toexpose and record.
His greatest wish was to tellher everything.
The only sensible thing is for you togo away.
The infinitive in this function always has appositive meaning,
i.e- it explains the meaning of the subject of the sentence. Hence,
sentences of this kind have the following structural peculiarity —
the subject of the sentence can be expressed only by a limited
number of nouns. They are nouns denoting abstract notions which
admit of and sometimes even require an explanation of their
meaning. The most commonly occurring of these nouns are: act,
action, advice, aim, ambition, answer, business, consequence, cus-
tom, desire, difficulty, duty, function, habit, hope, idea, instruc-
tion, intention, job, method, need, object (=aim), order, plan, poli
cy, problem, purpose, reason, requirement, role, rule, task, thing
(usually with an attribute), thought, way, wish, work and some
others (see the examples above).
The subject of the sentence may also be expressed by all (and
occasionally by the least and the most) modified by an attributive
clause which usually contains the verb to do.
e.g. All I want to do is to helpyou.
The least we can do is to tryand understandtheir idea.
The most he could do at the moment was to giveme a cigarette.
After this type of subject the infinitive may be used without to.
e.g. All I wanted to do was runaway.
All we can do is stickto our decision.
Sentences with the subject expressed by all, the least and the
most cannot be used in the interrogative form.
For the means of expressing the subject of the action denoted
by the infinitive see "Verbs", § 166.
The infinitive as predicative, unlike the infinitive as subject,
is found not only in literary style but also in spoken English.
(For comparison with the ing-form see §§ 210and 236.)
The Infinitive as Predicate
§ 183.The use of the infinitive as predicate is restricted to the
following sentence patterns:
1) Interrogative (affirmative and negative) sentences begin'
ning with why and implying a suggestion. We always find an in-
finitivewithout to here.
In interrogative-affirmative sentences the implication is that
there is no need to perform the action,
e.g. Why loseyour temper over a little thing like that?
Why waste your time on this kind of work?
In interrogative-negative sentences the implication is that
there is nothing to prevent one from performing the action.
e.g. Why not gothere right away?
Why not apologizeif you know you're wrong?
The subject of the infinitive in this kind of sentences is always
the person (or the persons) engaged in the conversation.
2) Exclamatory sentences showing that the person denoted by
the subject is unlikely to perform the action of the infinitive —
the speaker rejects the idea as impossible. The infinitive may be
used with or without to.
e.g. You — a man-of-the-world — to suggestthis! You know it's
"Try to write," she said, "you're expressive, you can say what
you want; why not try to be a writer?" I couldn't keep
from laughing at that. It was so absurd. Me — write!"No,"
Isaid with a laugh.
Such sentences are emotionally coloured and found only in
spoken English, but they are infrequent.
(For comparison with the ing-form see § 211.)