by Asher Hawkins
The infinitive is a noun form of a verb.
Originally, it was meant to be either a dative or locative case-wise. A
substantive clause with a subject accusative, for example iubeo te valere,
literally means "I bid you for being well," valere being a dative of purpose.
That is why the infinitive has dual citizenship as both noun, like a gerund
or a participle, or as verb, like a subjunctive.
Syntactically, the infinitive has five main catagories:
the historical infinitive (rare)
exclamatory infinitive (rare) (Jenney et al., 435).
Iíll start with the rare latter two. Anyone who has read the Aeneid
will remember that the imperfect indicative is often written as an infinitive;
exclamabant becomes exclamare. This is the historical infinitive.
An indirect statement, with an infinitive and subject accusative, can stand
alone if the tone be one of exclamation; in English, we would add
"to think thatÖ!", as in: "to think that I should write a paper on Yom
As a noun the infinitive is incredibly straight forward (e.g.,
donare bonum est, "it is good to give"), except for two usages. The infinitive
can really only be used as an accusative when in apposition to a regular
direct object. A&G gives a good example: quam multaÖfacimus cause amicorum,
precari ab dignoÖ "How many things we do for our friends, ask favors from
an unworthy personÖ" Also, the infinitive almost always accompanies an
impersonal verb (the licet, oportet, necesse est crowd) as the predicate
nominative of the subject, "it." "It is necessary to eat."
A complentary infinitive aids the main verb in transmitting its
meaning. For example, it would not suffice to say "they dare" alone, one
must say "they dare to be stupid," etc. Although in Latin the infinitive
cannot convey purpose as it can in English, a complementary infinitive
can nevertheless be switched with a subjunctive ut clause. This interchangeablility
occurs in verbs of willingness, necessity, command, admonition, and others
in this vein. This is extended in poetry for artistic effect, like with
Horaceís line furit te reperire "he rages to find you."
Infinitive clauses are a type of substantive clause. There are
two types of infinitive clauses: those in which the infinitive is interchangeable
with the subjunctive, and indirect statements.
A&G states that verbs like iubeo, and veto, and participles like paratus
and suetus always take the infinitive with subject accusative. Words like
volo, habeo, cupio, and do can take either the infinitive or the subjunctive,
and fall into the first category. However, it is important to note that
none of the aforementioned verbs are involved in indirect discourse. A&G
also lists verbs of allowing, determining, resolving, etc. in this category.
Verbs of saying, thinking, and perceiving command indirect discourse (Jenney
et al. 436). Infinitives in indirect discourse are much more concrete as
verbs than they are in the dative form I first mentioned. It is easy to
see that indirect discourse is really an elevated, later form of "I bid
you for being well." Indirect discourse extends to verbs of promising,
hoping, expecting, etc. It is evident that the future and perfect forms
of the infinitive arose from the need to make clear temporal distinctions
within indirect discourse.
IV. Further Thoughts
The infinitive is a noun form of a verb that slowly turned back into a
verb: the earliest form of the infinitive was as a subject or predicate
nominative. Next, it served as the complementing connection between a noun
and a verb ("I bid you for being well"), and evolved from there, until
it became a verb with its own clauses. For this reason, it is hard to deem
the infinitive a mood, although most would. A mood, at least as Websterís
defines it, is the way in which a verb governs a sentence; subjunctives,
indicatives, and imperatives make the sentence hypothetical, actual, or
overridingly urgent, respectively (coincidentally, Websterís only lists
these three as moods). That which is in its basest form a noun cannot really
control the type of action of the sentence, however great its agility at
modifying the main verb. We would never really think of designating a mood
for gerunds or participles. It is only by chance that we treat the infinitive
as a veridical verb.
Jenney, Charles Jr., Rogers V. Scudder, and David D. Coffin.
Third Year Latin (Newton, MA. Allyn and Bacon Inc. 1963)