Bare infinitive vs to-infinitive



I found these sentences in my book:

  1. He did nothing but cry.

  2. He had no choice but to obey.

Example #1 uses a bare infinitive ("cry"), but example #2 uses a to-infinitive ("to obey").

Why is this so?


Posted 2015-03-25T13:19:03.883

Reputation: 1 625

There might be related info in the 2002 CGEL, in the section "(g) Matrix-licensed complements", on pages 641-3. It seems that the complements of the PPs in your two examples might be licensed by the matrix clause itself. – F.E. – 2015-03-26T06:32:30.800



I think we can understand this syntax in terms of the verb in the matrix clause:

He did...

He had...

These verbs govern the objects on either side of but.

He did nothing but he (did) cry.

He had no choice but he (had) to obey.

We cannot say "*he did to cry". Nor can we say "*he had obey".


When he was rescued from the desert, the parched man did nothing but ________.


Posted 2015-03-25T13:19:03.883

Reputation: 116 610

1+1 But I suggest that the verb which governs to obey is not have to but choose -- derivative/cognate nouns often take the same sorts of complement as the verbs they're related to. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-03-25T14:15:01.683

Yes I get your point. Actually in my book says bare infinitive is used with 'but, than, and ,except, as, or'. So i get confused with these sentences. Sometimes this rule follows sometimes not. for example: "to give is better than to receive". In you example there should be bare infinitive. – starun008 – 2015-03-25T14:23:44.107

@starun008: "To give is better..." doesn't follow the same subject-transitiveverb-object-"but" pattern. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-03-25T14:27:18.087

@StoneyB I don't get your point. Can you please elaborate. – starun008 – 2015-03-25T14:27:30.147

@StoneyB: I'm on the fence about that. The battalion had no alternative but to retreat. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-03-25T14:36:52.373

@starun008 StoneyB's saying that the infinitive there has nothing to do with the verb had - for example we could have we were given no choice but to leave or there was no choice but for us to leave. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-25T16:39:56.013

@stoney, Tromano, So to make that clear, it's the noun choice which has the infinitive as it's complement? – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-25T16:40:22.823

@Araucaria That's my gut feel: having the choice to obey "derives from" choose to obey. He had [ no [choice] but [the choice to obey] ]. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-03-25T18:10:50.637

@StoneyB Yes, I quite agree! :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-25T19:07:51.473

2Now I am getting confuse again. You all are right. You all have your point to prove your rule. @Araucaria saying the infinitive has nothing to do with verb "had". It is contradicting the answer above answer than how to find what to use "bare infinitive" or "to + infinitive". – starun008 – 2015-03-25T19:50:32.543

1@Araucaria: What underlying verb governs in "...had no alternative but to retreat"? – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-03-25T21:52:10.980

1@TRomano I didn't say that there was an underlying verb. There are different types of complement clauses that a word may take: -ing, [for ...] to-infinitive, plain form, finite clause. But it seems that in those examples there is nothing special about the verb HAVE - (which isn't being used as part of a have to construction in the matrix clause anyhow). For the latest example, we might have "there was no alternative but to retreat". It doesn't seem like a good theory that the to-infinitive is because of BE. It seems to be because of something else ... It's interesting! :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-26T00:11:50.163

@starun008 It wasn't originally me! It was StoneyB (though I agree!) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-26T00:45:22.623

@Araucaria What kind of infinitives do nouns take as complements? They can take to-infinitives, but can they also take bare-infinitives? – F.E. – 2015-03-26T01:19:55.407

I'd be interested in the analysis of Nero did little but fiddle in light of this (to me new and strange) idea that nouns take complements. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-03-26T12:20:27.857