General Writing and Grammar Help/Infinitives and ESL

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Question
Hello Ted,

How should I explain to ESL students about the usage of infinitives? Why must the particle "to" plus a verb be used in some cases but not in others?
For example:
"I need help to find my keys." or "Can you help me find my keys?"

By the way, do you know about or recommend a grammar book which would be helpful for teachers of ESL students? Perhaps a grammar reference book or a grammar rule book?

Thanks,
Nathan

Answer
Dear Nathan:

How should I explain to ESL students about the usage of infinitives?

*** With great patience.

Why must
the particle "to" plus a verb be used in some cases but not in others?

"To" is not a participle; it is a preposition.  When "to" is placed before a verb, the word is called an infinitive.  The infinitive is actually made up of two things, the preposition and the  verb.

For example:
"I need help to find my keys." or "Can you help me find my keys?"

**** Nathan, the only way you can get your point across is that in any language there are different ways of saying the same thing.  My Brazilian friends tell me that English has TOO MANY ways, but they also admit that their Portuguese language has different ways to say the same thing.  

Take your two examples --

Subject = I
Verb = need
direct object = help
infinitive phrase, used as an adverb answering the question "why?" -- to find my keys.

In the infinitive phrase, you have "keys" as the object of the infinitive "to find."  "My" is a possessive pronoun describing "keys."

Subject = you
verb = can help
direct object = me
infinitive phrase = [to] find my keys.

The word "to" is not in the sentence, but it is understood to be there.

**** Check out these web sites:

http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000078.htm

http://www.testyourenglish.net/english-online/subjects/infin.html

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/627/03/

Nathan, did I send you a word document with an annotated list of helpful grammar sites -- http://www.dailygrammar.com is one verb good one.

If you don't already have my list, send me another question to Allexperts, and I'll look for the list, which I have saved somewhere.

Ted


By the way, do you know about or recommend a grammar book which would be helpful
for teachers of ESL students? Perhaps a grammar reference book or a grammar rule
book?

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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