Use the preposition “to” before an infinitive verb.

Don’t forget that the infinitive verb is preceded by the preposition to.

Examples:

Incorrect: It’s unusual for a ballet dancer (X) weigh two hundred and fifty pounds.

Correct: It’s unusual for a ballet dancer to weigh two hundred and fifty pounds.

Incorrect: He loved (X) collect books.

Correct: He loved to collect books.

IncorrectThis hot weather is making it hard for me (X) concentrate.

Correct: This hot weather is making it hard for me to concentrate.

For more background on infinitives, continue reading below.

About Infinitive Clauses (Also Called Infinitive Phrases)

An infinitive verb is a verbal consisting of to plus the verb in base form.

Examples:

to eat

to read

An infinitive can be used as a verbal modifier or verbal complement.

Examples:

What are your favorite things to eat? (to eat = modifies things)

Lisa really loves to read (to read = complements loves)

Like any verb, an infinitive denotes an action or state which involves one or more people, places, or things. For example, Lisa reads and You eat. But because the infinitive is a dependent verb–in other words, it is not the main verb in an independent clause–it often appears where there is no subject noun or pronoun expressed. In such cases, the logical subject of the infinitive verb is understood from its context. One such case is when the subject of both verbs would be the same.

Examples:

Incorrect: I love for me to read books.

Correct: I love (X) to read books.

Another case is when a direct object after the main clause verb would be the same as the subject of the infinitive verb.

Examples:

Incorrect: I asked my dad for him to help me with my homework.

Correct: I asked my dad (X) to help me with my homework.

Another case is when the writer is making a generalization. In other words, the subject of the infinitive verb could be anyone or anything.

Examples:

Too wordy: It’s always a good idea for you to back up your computer files.

Better: It’s always a good idea (X) to back up your computer files.

In all other cases, however, there needs to be a subject before the infinitive verb.

Example:

It’s unusual for a ballet dancer to weigh two hundred and fifty pounds.

Don’t forget that the infinitive subject is preceded by the preposition for.

Examples:

Incorrect: It’s unusual (X) a ballet dancer to weigh two hundred and fifty pounds.

Correct: It’s unusual for a ballet dancer to weigh two hundred and fifty pounds.

Also don’t forget that the infinitive subject, if it is a personal pronoun, must be in the  object case (i.e., them, us, her, him, me) and not subject case (they, we, he, she, I).

Example:

Incorrect: It’s unusual for he to help me with my homework.

Correct: It’s unusual for him to help me with my homework.

Further Reading:

In Read, Write, Edit: Grammar for College Writers, see pages 115-122

In Writing Clearly: An Editing Guide (2nd edition), see pages 29-43

 

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Try using an indirect object.

Certain sentence types follow the formula

subject + verb + indirect object + direct object

In sentences with the above formula, the verb denotes the transportation of something from one place or person to someone. Give, bring, send, and take are verbs that can take advantage of this structure. The direct object indicates the thing that is transferred, and the indirect object shows a person or thing that receives something.

Example:

Did you send the boss that memo?

In most of these sentences, the thing that changes hands can be structured as an indirect object (after the verb) or as a prepositional phrase (after the direct object).

Examples:

 

Correct: Did you send the boss that memo?

Correct: Did you send that memo to the boss?

Always consider the best possible order of information, as well as the most concise formulation. For more about choosing the best order of ideas, see my earlier post on that topic.

Note: An indirect object should be placed after its verb without any intervening preposition, as in the example below:

Incorrect:

Did you send to the boss that memo?

Correct:

Did you send the boss that memo?

Correct:

Did you send that memo to the boss?

 

Single vs. Double Quotation Marks

If you are confusing single quotation marks with double quotation marks, it could be because you have learned the British style of using quotation marks, but not the North American style.

Examples:

Incorrect: 

Gordon Wood says that Jefferson was ‘inspired by a vision of how things could and should be’.  (However, this usage is correct in British style.)

Correct: 

Gordon Wood says that Jefferson was “inspired by a vision of how things could and should be.”  (This is the style used in the U.S. and Canada.)

In order to become an expert in single and double quotes, here are some tips.

First, they’re on the same key of your keyboard. (You use the shift key to get to the double quotation marks.)

keyboard

Second, use double quotation marks for most uses. This includes true quotations as well as scare quotes.

Third, use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.

Links:

Single Quotes vs. Double Quotes

Single Quotation Marks versus Double Quotation Marks

Single Quotes or Double Quotes? It’s Really Quite Simple.

Quotation Mark: Summary Table For All Languages

Problem: A Complementizer Is Needed.

A complementizer is a kind of connecting word. The most common one in English is that. We all know that that can be optional. However, dropping it will sometimes lead to an unclear sentence.

Example:

Confusing:

At the meeting, one of the presenters asked if the mayor or anyone representing the village was present. Someone answered the mayor was invited but declined to attend, and that there was no one present representing the village.

Clearer:

At the meeting, one of the presenters asked if the mayor or anyone representing the village was present. Someone answered that the mayor was invited but declined to attend, and that there was no one present representing the village.

(Adapted from “Readers Write: LED question remain for VGN residents,” The Island Now, https://theislandnow.com/opinions-100/readers-write-led-question-remain-vgn-residents/)

Links:

List of common subordinators

Problem: Avoid clichés.

A cliché is an expression or idea that has become overused. When choosing words, avoid clichéd expressions. when developing a thesis, avoid clichéd arguments.

Examples:

Cliché: In a nutshell, we should not be afraid of failure. (overused metaphor)

Better: In short, we should not be afraid of failure. (neutral expression)

Cliché: With the rapid development of society, people are called more and more to work in teams. (Remark: Is society really developing rapidly? And if so, what does that even mean?)

Better: Due to more and more research on the benefits of collaboration and divergent thinking, people are called more and more to work in teams. (Remark: This argument is more original and much more specific.)

For further reading:

Check out Wikipedia’s article on clichés.

Noun Number with Place-Value Words

When writing numbers, do not use a plural -s or -es after words like hundred, thousand, million, and so on if they are preceded by a number, like one, two, and so on, or other quantity words like several or a few. Exceptions: These place-value words can be plural when used alone or after the word many.

Examples:

Incorrect:

Several thousands of refugees were massed at the border.

Correct:

Several thousand refugees were massed at the border.

Correct:

Many thousands of refugees were massed at the border.

Correct:

Thousands of refugees were massed at the border.

For further reading:

Check out this article on the word “million” in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary.

Noun Number in Phrases that Include a Preposition

You certainly know that you should check your writing to make sure that plural nouns are correctly marked with -s, -es or other appropriate plural marking. But do you know about plural marking in fixed expressions that include prepositions?

If a fixed noun expression (i.e., an idiom) follows the formula noun + preposition +noun then you must add plural marking to the first noun, not the second noun (which is the object of the proposition).

Examples:

one point of view > two points of view (NOT “point of views”)

one brother-in-law > two brothers-in-law (NOT “brother-in-laws”)

Further reading:

For more about how to form regular noun plurals, see my earlier post on noun number.

For more on how identify prepositional phrases, see my post on prepositions.