Help Plus Infinitive

Help Plus Infinitive

I got a question from the Peanut Gallery today. Paul asks:

Many, many years ago when I was learning English, I thought I came across a rule for the use of the verb “help.” There is not supposed to be “to” after help, as in “please help me be a better writer,” as opposed to “please help me to be a better writer.” Which is correct?

They are both acceptable, with the version lacking the word “to” a bit more informal.

In the “help me be” example, the word “be” is called a “bare infinitive,” which means it doesn’t have the customary “to” in front of it. Help is a verb that can be used with or without the “to” and with or without an object before the infinitive (help me be). To be or not to be, that is a “to-infinitive.” Whether ’tis nobler….

Here’s another example where you can use either the to-infinitive or the bare infinitive:

What they did was circulate the drilling mud prior to cementing the well.

What they did was to circulate the drilling mud prior to cementing the well.

In a series containing more than one infinitive, the second one generally is left bare.

Example: They are planning to drill the well and [to] complete it with a slotted liner.

Oh dear, here comes a song into my head that I’m sure I’ll never get rid of:

“Look for the… BARE infinitives, the simple bare infinitives,

forget about your worries and your strife…..”

(with apologies to The Jungle Book movie maestro)


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