So there's this weird grammar structure I came across in a series, As far as grammar is concerned the following statement

All I want to/wanna do is talk

Whereas in the standard English it should be either of these

All I want to/wanna do is to talk

All I want to/wanna do is talking

Thus I was wondering what grammar structure precisely it follows. Some other friend of mine said to me "talk here's a noun" where I was like "so is talking in my example, therefore it has to be something else involved in".

Could anyone explain what grammar it follows here?

  • 1
    "Wanna" is never used in Standard English
    – BillJ
    Dec 10, 2016 at 9:36
  • @BillJ I know right. that's not the matter here though. Dec 10, 2016 at 9:37
  • 1
    "Talk" (or "to talk") is a verb; it heads the non-finite infinitival clause functioning as predicative complement of "be". Note that it could take adverbial modification, as in "All I want to do is talk sensibly", or a PP complement as in "All I want to do is talk to Ed". "Talking" would be ungrammatical.
    – BillJ
    Dec 10, 2016 at 9:47
  • @BillJ Could you just speak English? :/ I didn't get a word Dec 10, 2016 at 9:49
  • "Talk" (or "to talk") is not a noun; it's a verb. I gave you the grammatical structure that you asked for.
    – BillJ
    Dec 10, 2016 at 9:54

2 Answers 2


When the clause is predicative complement and the subject NP contains "do" in a relative clause, the usual form is a bare infinitival, but "to" can optionally be added:

All I did was (to) print out the table of contents.


Because the complement of "want" is "to do", the complement of "is" must be an expression of action or activity. If it had been "All I want to drink is..." the complement of "is" would have to be a beverage of some kind, anything that can be drunk.

All I want to do is {action}.
All I want to drink is {beverage}.

An infinitive, either marked by "to" or unmarked, can be an expression of action or activity:

All I want|hope|plan|intend|wish

to do


work|play|run|walk|sing|sit in silence|eat|fast|vegetate|pray|curse...

to prognosticate|to watch TV|to drink beer|to play poker|to burp...

The action or activity can even be expressed with the verb "have" or "be", as long as semantically the phrase is understood to express action or activity or refraining from action or activity:

have sex|be chaste...

  • So that means the expression of action/activity can be infinitive or to-infinitive? Dec 10, 2016 at 11:34
  • Yes, bare infinitive (sing) or the marked infinitive (to sing).
    – TimR
    Dec 10, 2016 at 11:42
  • There is something confusing me when it's past tense, like "All I did was", why use was after did? Why not is? Dec 10, 2016 at 12:04
  • You will hear native speakers say both: "All I did was give it a little shove" or "All I did is give it a little shove". The reference is to a past action, so "was" makes sense, no? But if the nature of the action is more important to the speaker than the time of the action, or is the only important thing, the speaker might subconsciously choose the present tense "is". Native speakers are not all equally scrupulous in their choice of tense.
    – TimR
    Dec 10, 2016 at 12:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .