The Italian infinitive has many uses.
- It’s the common way to turn a verb into a noun, something for which English tends to prefer the gerund
- It’s used for negative or generic imperatives
- It’s also used in many, very common, “infinitive propositions”
As a rule, when the subject of a subordinate sentence is the same as the one of the main sentence, the subordinate should be “shortened” into an infinitive proposition: but in many cases the same happens for subordinates referring to the object of the main sentence, or acting as its object.
There is no clear-cut rule of which preposition to use before each infinitive, and sometimes synonyms require different ones, and the same verb might require a different preposition when used reflexively.
The verbs that can be followed directly by an infinitive are:
- Modal verbs (potere, dovere, volere, sapere)
- Perception verbs (vedere, sentire)
- Feeling verbs (piacere, amare, odiare, preferire)
- Causative verbs (fare, lasciare); not all, as permettere and ordinare need “di“
Most verbs need a preposition before the infinitive:
- di is by far the most common preposition to introduce an infinitive: the list includes among others the verbs of expression (dire, chiedere), thought (pensare, credere) and attempt (cercare, tentare – provare being an exception).
- a is mainly used for subordinates that are somewhat “after” the main sentence: as such the list includes verbs of movement (andare, venire), preparation (provare, prendere, mettersi), and hesitation (esitare, indugiare, tardare). If the main verb has an object, “a” can’t be used to refer to the same subject.
The infinitive subordinate can also be introduced by other sentence elements for different effects, and in this case the prepositions are more loosely related to the main sentence:
- di can express specification, “aver bisogno di dormire” (having need to sleep, needing sleep).
- da usually expresses a passive meaning, “bollette da pagare” (bills to be paid).
- a can have a conditional meaning, “a sentire lui” (if hearing him, if you listen to his opinion), but with some adjectives it has the same passive meaning as “da“, “facile a dirsi” (easy to say).
- per expresses purpose and finality, “per viaggiare” (in order to travel).
- in refers to the time in which the action is happening, “nel tornare a casa” (while coming back home).
|to wait for
|to know someone
|to do, make
|to know something
|to feel, hear
|to play an instrument
|to hold, keep