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Verbs that Require Infinitives on the GMAT

Some verbs require the infinitive, and the GMAT expects you to know them. First, consider a couple practice Sentence Correction problems exploring these idioms.

1) The Sherpa people, indigenous to the mountainous regions of eastern Nepal, are known to have their ability of performing with ease the demanding tasks of mountaineering at some of the highest known altitudes.

      (A) to have their ability of performing with ease

 

      (B) to have the ability with their performing with ease

 

      (C) for their ability to perform with ease

 

      (D) for their ability of performing with ease

 

    (E) in the ability to easily perform

2) The FDA enacted these recent restrictions both to prohibit individual physicians from forming financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and to forbid the companies to advertise directly to the physicians.

      (A) both to prohibit individual physicians from forming financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and to forbid the companies to advertise

 

      (B) both to prohibit individual physicians to form financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies while forbidding the companies to advertise

 

      (C) to both prohibit individual physicians from forming financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and also to forbid the companies from advertising

 

      (D) both to prohibit individual physicians from forming financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies as well as to forbid the companies from advertising

 

    (E) to prohibit both individual physicians to form financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and to forbid the companies from advertising

 

Infinitive

The infinitive forms of verbs are the “dictionary form” of the verb, the form you would find if you looked the verb up in a standard dictionary.  We construct the infinitive as follows: “to” + [the infinitive form].  For almost every verb in English, the infinitive form is identical to the present tense of the verb, what we would use after the pronoun “I” in the present tense —- I walk, I eat, I listen —– these become the infinitives: to walk, to eat, to listen.  The only verb for which the infinitive form is wildly different from any of the present tense forms is the most irregular verb in the entire language: the verb “to be”, with present test forms am/is/are.

The infinitive itself acts as a noun in a sentence.  Nevertheless, since the infinitive is the form of a verb, it can take adverbs & direct objects.  When we attach all these other forms to the infinitive, we create an infinitive phrase.

 

Verbs + infinitives

Certain English verbs idiomatically demand the infinitive: that is to say, the only grammatically correct construction that can follow them is an infinitive or an infinitive phrase.   Here are a few important examples of these verbs:

* allow A to do X

* choose to do X

* decide to do X

* forbid A to do X

* persuade A to do X

* try to do X

Notice, those six verbs are all about volition and intention.  These verbs are common in English, and common on the GMAT Sentence Correction.   The GMAT wants you to know these idioms: each one of these six verbs must have an infinitive, and it is an idiom mistake to follow them with anything else —- “I persuaded her into …”, “I forbid him from doing ….” —- all automatically incorrect.

Another verb that requires special mention is the verb “to want.”  In most constructions you are likely to see on the GMAT, this verb also idiomatically takes an infinitive.   Following the verb “want” with a “that”-clause is always wrong on the GMAT.  One alternate acceptable construction is what is called an “object complement”: the structure of this form is “want” + [direct object] + [adjective].  For example:

*The sheriff wanted the bandit dead.

*The CFO wants the overseas division solvent before the end of the year.

This is a common form in casual speech, and there’s an off chance it could appear on a GMAT Sentence Correct in the future.  In other words, don’t automatically discount the verb “want” if it is not followed by an infinitive: it could be an “object complement.”

 

Other words + infinitives

There are a few other constructions that require the infinitive

  • The words able & ability: The word “able” is an adjective, and the corresponding noun form is “ability.”  Both of these must be followed by an infinitive or infinitive phrase.  This is an idiom the GMAT Sentence Correct loves to test.  Common mistake patterns involve the word “ability” followed by some other preposition and then a gerund: “the ability for doing X”, “the ability of doing X” — all incorrect!
  • The adjective reluctant: This adjective idiomatically takes the infinitive: e.g. “I was reluctant to do X.”  As with “ability”, any other preposition + a gerund is wrong!
  • The idiom “in order to do X“: this is an idiomatically correct way to describe the purpose or intention or goal of one’s action.  For example: “The independent investor published a series of scathing articles about their management procedures in order to short-sell that company.”  The structure describes a first action undertaken (here, publishing the articles) in order to bring out a second less obvious result or consequence (short-selling the company).  You are expected to understand this idiom on the GMAT, and you are expected to recognize this as correct and other variants (e.g. “in order that he could …”) as incorrect.

 

Practice

Having read this, take another look at the idioms in those practice sentences before looking at the explanations below.  Here’s another practice Sentence Correction sentence on idioms.

3) http://gmat.magoosh.com/questions/1173

 

Practice Question Explanations

1) The primarily idiom in this question concerns the word “ability”, which must take the infinitive.  Only (C) and (E) have an infinitive, although (E) has a mistake known as the split infinitive: it inserts an adverb between the “to” and the verb of an infinitive. The split infinitive was once considered completely wrong.  It is gaining acceptance in casual speech and pop culture (“To boldly go where no man has gone before“), but this will not be part of a correct answer on the GMAT Sentence Correction.

Also, notice the secondary idiom, “to be known for something.”  That is the correct way to express this —- the Sherpa are known for their mountaineering skill.  The other constructions (“known to have the ability”, “known in their ability”) are idiomatically incorrect ways to express this idea.

The best answer is (C).

2)  This is a tricky one.  We have the “both X and Y” parallel construction (BTW, notice that the variants “both X as well as Y” and “both X and also Y” are both incorrect on the GMAT.)  The two infinitive verbs, “to prohibit” and “to forbid” must match in parallel form, and they do.  What follows those two verbs does not have to be parallel; furthermore, each of those verbs has its own idiomatical requirements.   As we discussed above, the proper idiom for “forbid” is “to forbid A to do X” — the verb “forbid” must take the infinitive.  By contrast, the proper idiom for “prohibit” is “to prohibit A from doing X” — the verb “prohibit” must take the preposition “from” followed by a gerund.  The two verbs, “forbid” and “prohibit” have similar meanings, so it’s ironic that they have starkly different idiomatic requirements.  The only answer that fulfills the idiomatic requirements of both verbs is (A).

 

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10 Responses to Verbs that Require Infinitives on the GMAT

  1. Kristen April 10, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    Great article! I was surprised to learn that the proper idiom is “forbid to” as I always say “forbid from”.

    However, shortly after learning this, I was trying the “killer whale” practice question which had the following text:
    “Wildlife parks that rely on the killer whales for entertainment hunt the killer whale almost exclusively in the water of Iceland, because strict sanctions forbid them from doing so off the coast of North America, an area also abundant in killer whales.”

    Here they’re using “forbid from”! Are there instances when “forbid from” is ok?

    Thanks!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 11, 2016 at 10:17 am #

      I’ve got this one, Mike! 🙂

      Kristen, this is a GREAT question, and I’m very glad you asked it. In very strictly formal academic English, the kind you see on the GMAT, “from” is only paired with “forbid” when the verb “forbid” is in the passive voice. And when “from” is used instead of “to,” the verb would become a gerund (ending in -ing) rather than an infinitive verb preceded by “to.”

      In other words, the strictly proper passive form of “forbid to+infinitive” would be “forbidden from+gerund.” If the article you cited appeared on the GMAT, it would most likely either say that the whale hunters were “forbidden from hunting off the coast” (passive voice, or say that sanctions “forbid the hunters to hunt off the coast” of North America.

      However, in general language usage, even in published writings, “forbid from + gerund” is becoming more accepted as an active voice idiom with the root verb “forbid.” Increasingly, “forbid from” and “forbid to” are being treated as interchangeable in English language passages written for popular audiences. The “popular” bending and shifting of language rules eventually spreads to more strictly structured academic writing. So at some point in the future, you may see “forbid from” on the GMAT. For now though, Mike is correct that this would be treated as incorrect on the exam.

  2. S87 February 21, 2016 at 12:30 am #

    Hello Mike
    Great Article!

    both to prohibit individual physicians from forming financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and to forbid the companies to advertise

    vs

    both to prohibit individual physicians from forming financial partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and to forbid the companies from advertising

    Are both correct?

    Please help. Thanks

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 21, 2016 at 6:54 am #

      Hi there! Happy to talk about this. 🙂

      In general, they are both correct, but there is a difference. The infinitive has a more “imperative” meaning than from + gerund. So in your first example, both could work, though the first is that more “imperative” or ordering sense compared to the second. I cannot find GMAT examples where the distinction between these would be a split that determines the answer of a SC, so I would not be worried about that.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Marie September 8, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    I find your videos extremely entertaining and informative! Thank you!

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike September 9, 2014 at 9:46 am #

      Dear Marie,
      You are quite welcome, my friend. 🙂 I wish you tremendous good fortune in your studies.
      Mike 🙂

  4. Terrace December 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Hi, Mike!

    Is *in order that* idiomatically correct to express the intention?

    Thanks a lot:)!!

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike December 12, 2012 at 11:29 am #

      No, that’s not correct at all. The correct idiom is “in order to.”
      Mike 🙂

      • Terrace December 13, 2012 at 3:42 am #

        I see… Thank you very much!

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike December 13, 2012 at 10:55 am #

          You are quite welcome.
          Mike 🙂


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