February 28, 2013

Translating English Infinitives

This note discusses how to translate the various uses of English infinitives into Hindi.

Verb Complement

A common use of English infinitives is to complement a verb.

There are four common patterns in Hindi for translating verb complements:

  • M.S.O. infinitive + के लिए or को
  • Infinitive with other postpositions
  • Subordinate clause
  • Plain infinitive

“I asked him to play the tabla” – मैंने उसको तबला बजाने के लिए पूछा

“He refused to take any money from me” – उसने मुझसे पैसा लेने से इनकार किया

In the previous example, से was used to mark the complementary infinitive. This is because the verb इनकार करना marks its object with से (से is often used with prohibitions, refusals, and ablative uses).

“He wants to me to cook okra” – वह चाहता है कि मैं भिन्डी पकाऊं

The verb चाहना requires its complement to be a subordinate clause if the action is performed by someone other than the speaker. If the action is performed by the speaker, a plain infinitive is used:

मैं भिन्डी पकाना चाहता हूं – “I want to cook okra”

Different verbs require different patterns for complements.


English infinitives are commonly used to express purpose. Fortunately, this usage translates into Hindi very easily. Hindi infinitives of purpose can have one of three forms:

  • The masculine singular oblique (M.S.O.) infinitive
  • The M.S.O. infinitive + के लिए
  • The M.S.O. infinitive + को

राज खाना लेने गया – “Raj went to get some food”

राज खाना लेने के लिए गया – “Raj went to get some food”

राज खाना लेने को गया – “Raj went to get some food”

The first option is perhaps the most common since it is more elliptical. The use with के लिए is considered more proper than the use with को.

Noun Phrase

Infinitives are verbal nouns, so they can be used like nouns.

The most common pattern in English involves the “dummy” use of the pronoun “it”. There is no pattern that can be used to translate every sentence like this, but often the sentence can be converted to a sentence with a gerund and then translated using a Hindi infinitive:

“It’s good to exercise” (i.e., “Exercising is good”) – व्यायाम करना अच्छा है

If an agent is mentioned, English uses “for”, and Hindi similarly uses “के लिए“.

“It’s difficult for me to believe this” – मेरे लिए यह भरोसा करना मुश्किल है

Less frequently, English infinitives are used without a dummy pronoun. This is generally used in more formal language, such as poetry or literature.

Noun Complements

English infinitives can be used to complement nouns, qualifying the use or purpose of the noun. Generally, this usage can be translated using का.

“This hill is a good place to watch the stars” – यह पहाड़ तारे को देखने की एक अच्छी जगह है

“Raj went to buy some things to eat and drink” – राज खानेपीने का कुछ सामान खरीदने चला गया

However, it’s often more idiomatic to convert the structure of the sentence. For instance, it’s common in English to say “Would you like something to drink?”

Personal Noun / Pronoun Complements

With personal nouns or pronouns, the masculine singular oblique infinitive with वाला is typically used.

वह कौन होता है मेरी आलोचना करने वाला? – “Who is he to criticize me?”

वह अंतरिक्ष में उड़ने वाला पहला व्यक्ति था – “He was the first person to fly in space”

Adjective Complements

In English, an infinitive can complement an adjective.

“This word is difficult to pronounce” – यह शब्द का उच्चारण करना कठिन है

In the previous example, the sentence can be converted using a gerund: “Pronouncing this word is difficult”, and so the translation uses an infinitive phrase.

However, in other situations, Hindi will use के लिए or को with the M.S.O. infinitive to accomplish the same effect:

“Are you ready to go?” – क्या तुम जाने के लिए तैयार हो

Bare Infinitives

English infinitives are comprised of two words: “to”, and the “bare infinitive”. For instance, the bare infinitive of “to go” is “go”. English uses bare infinitives in a variety of situations. Of course, since Hindi infinitives are single words, there are no bare infinitives in Hindi. There’s no general formula for translating bare infinitives. They are only used in limited circumstances, so it won’t be hard to learn ways to translate them.

“Help me carry the luggage upstairs” – मेरी सामान ऊपर ले जाने में मदद करो

Why pay for something that’s free? – आप ऐसी चीज़ों के लिए क्यों पैसा देंगे जो मुफ्त में मिलती हैं

In the previous example, the bare infinitive “carry” was used.

With Interrogatives

English infinitives can be used with interrogatives.

“I don’t know what to do” – मुझे पता नहीं है कि मैं क्या करूं

“I don’t know how to open this door” – मुझे पता नहीं है कि मैं कैसे इस दरवाजे को खोलूं