April 20, 2012


Infinitives are verbal nouns.

They have characteristics of both verbs and nouns.

Like verbs, infinitives express an action or a state, and have gender and number.

Like nouns, infinitives have gender, number, and case. Infinitives can be used in manners similar to nouns as well.

Infinitives in English are formed with the word “to” followed by a verb stem: “to go”, “to be”, “to run”, etc.


Hindi infinitives are formed by suffixing an infinitive suffix to a verb stem. The infinitive suffixes are as follows:

Gender Number Suffix
Masculine Singular ना
Masculine Plural ने
Feminine Singular नी
Feminine Plural नी

The following table summarizes the infinitive forms of खाना as an example:

Gender Number Suffix
Masculine Singular खाना
Masculine Plural खाने
Feminine Singular खानी
Feminine Plural खानी

In the oblique case, the infinitive suffix is ने, as in खाने.

The Oblique Infinitive

The oblique infinitive has a variety of uses. Since infinitives are verbal nouns, these usages are similar to the usages of oblique nouns.

The Oblique Infinitive With Postpositions

The oblique infinitive, just like an oblique noun, is employed when the infinitive is the object of a postposition. A “gerund” is simply a verb which is used as a noun. Thus, in this instance, the oblique infinitive is functioning as a gerund.

Examples of Oblique Infinitives with Postpositions

वो लोग घर गए खाना खाने के लिए (“They went home to eat food”). In this sentence, the oblique infinitive खाने is used with the postposition के लिए to indicate purpose (“they went home for the purpose of eating”). This is a common idiom in Hindi. The oblique infinitive can be used with a variety of postpositions: खाने के बाद (“after eating”), खाने के पहले (“before eating”), खाने के बिना (“without eating”), or even मुझे मिठाइयाँ खाने का मन है (“I feel like eating some sweets” – literally “to me there is a desire of eating sweets”).

The infinitive + postposition can be translated literally into English by converting the oblique infinitive to a gerund and the postposition into a preposition:

खाना खाने के लिए – literally “for eating food”; however, it is usually better style to convert the postpositional phrase into more idiomatic English.

The Oblique Infinitive Without Pospositions

The oblique infinitive may appear without a postposition.

The Oblique Infinitive in Idioms

Additionally, the oblique infinitive is used in several idioms.

मुझे जाने दो (“let me go”) – the oblique infinitive + form of देना (“to give”) is used to express “to allow, to let, to permit”, etc.

वो लोग हँसने लगे – “those people began to laugh” – the oblique infinitive + form of लगना is used to express “to begin to do something”.

Gender and Infinitives

The infinitive is usually used neutrally (the masculine singular form) or in the oblique form. The feminine forms and masculine plural forms are used in certain situations, however.

Idioms of Compulsion

For instance, several idioms involving compulsion and obligation require the infinitive to agree with its direct object:

Infinitive + चाहिए

आपको ये किताबें खरीदनी चाहियें – “you should buy these books” – the infinitive खरीदनी (“to buy”) agrees with its direct object since the agent (आप) is “blocked” by the postposition को, which indicates the person under obligation.

Infinitive + पड़ना

मुझे कपडे खरीदने पड़ेगा – “I have to buy clothes” – the infinitive खरीदने (“to buy”) agrees with is direct object कपडे (“clothes”).

Infinitive + होना

मुझे यह किताब पढ़नी है – “I have to read this book” – the infinitive पढ़नी (“to read”) agrees with its direct object, किताब (“book”).

Uses of the Direct Infinitive

The direct infinitive has several uses.

The Gerund

The infinitive is commonly used as a gerund. मुझे सोना पसंद है – “I like sleeping”. मुझे हिंदी बोलना मुश्किल लगता है – “Speaking Hindi seems difficult to me”. In each of these sentences, the infinitive or infinitive phrase is the subject of a verb, and thus is being used like a noun.

Verb Complements

The infinitive is commonly used to complement a verb. मैं घर जाना चाहता हूँ – I want to go home. The infinitive जाना (“to go”) complements the verb चाहता हूँ, completing the verb – “I want… to go”.

The Neutral Imperative

The infinitive is used as a neutral imperative: एक किताब लाना – “bring a book”.