I am not sure if you can use the infinitive here.

I would rather say:

Accuse people of being racist.

The other question is if you can say:

Accuse people of being racists.

Accuse people to be racists.

I sometimes use words like "racist" as noun instead of adjective. Are both ok?

4 Answers 4


to is for purpose or a place.

  • I went to the field to play football.
  • I wanted to do the work.

To accuse someone of being something is idiomatic.

Therefore, to accuse people of being racist.

racist can be a noun or an adjective.

being + adjective as in: being racist, being rich, being silly, being stupid, being smart, being headstrong, etc. cannot come after the preposition to where to means for the purpose of or in the direction of or towards.

All good dictionaries show:

to accuse someone of something:

She accused him of stealing.

Passive form: He was accused of stealing [by him].

Now, being + adjective: being silly, for example [grammatically like being racist].

She accused him of being racist. He was accused of being racist.

As said above and as shown in all standard dictionaries: accuse x of [something] is the idiomatic way to phrase this.

  • 1
    The reasoning in this answer seems wrong. You say "to" can be only for a purpose or a place and not a person - but what about "I asked John to be my best man"?
    – Astralbee
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 21:27
  • 1
    I asked John [purpose] to be my best man. I asked him for that purpose: being my best man.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 21:35
  • 1
    yes but that doesn't answer the question. The OP doesn't know why "to" can't be used in place of "of" and you've said it is because it isn't a purpose or a place. That isn't the reason at all. What about simply "I went to John (no purpose yet) to to discuss our earlier football game"?
    – Astralbee
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 21:39
  • 2
    I went to John [place, here a person] to discuss [purpose].Unless you have a place or purpose, you can't use to. It is the reason. You basically say the same thing. Another is: "being racist" can't come after that.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 0:30
  • You can't have being after to, but you can have be... "I was just doing it to be clever". As you say, indicating purpose. Whereas "I asked John to be my best man" is actually not purpose, but asked being catenative.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 16:58

"To" is used to express motion or direction either to a literal place, person or thing, or toward a stated goal or a situation.

When you accuse somebody you are calling them out for something they have done and that "crime" usually has a name. It is correct therefore to say:

I accused him of being racist.


I accused him of racism.

It would be incorrect to say "accuse... to" because there is no implied direction or motion towards something; you are labelling something they have already done.

There are some other ways you could use "to" with an accusation, however - if you were indicating some kind of movement towards the act.


Trump's xenophobic vision of America is inciting people to racism.

This is correct because it suggests that people are moving towards being racist through the process of incitement.

I consider him to be racist.

This is correct because consideration is a process of thought so it is described as having motion or direction. Idiomatically this is pretty much the same as accusing someone of something because you are saying that you think they are something.

  • toward a stated goal= purpose, same thing.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 21:38
  • I also gave the "minimal idiom".
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 20:01
  • "There are some other ways you could use "to" with an accusation, however" You incitement example consists of an accusation that contains a verb that takes "to", which is quite a different thing. By that standard, you can use any preposition with "accuse". "I accused him of throwing the ball through the window", for instance. That has nothing to do with whether "accuse" can take the preposition "through". It's not "accuse" that's taking the preposition, it's a verb within the accusation. And in "I consider him to be racist", "to" is not a preposition; "to be" is the full infinitive. Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 19:25

The existing answers are right that "accuse people to be racist" doesn't mean the same as "accuse people of being racist".

It is not entirely incorrect or ungrammatical, however. It just means something different. 'To' indicates direction or purpose. Therefore you could say "I accuse people to be racist" if you are accusing them of something (not stated in that phrase, perhaps not the sentence) in order to be racist yourself.

So, you could be asked why you keep accusing people (presumably of some specific ethnicity) of some crime, and you could reply:

I accuse them to be racist.

Which would mean your purpose in laying the accusations was "to be racist".

It would be very unusual, but in that context it would be understood.

  • "accuse people to be racist" is not idiomatic English. It's not even debatable.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 15:50
  • The fact that it doesn't get used doesn't mean that it is actually devoid of meaning. If people want to avoid using things that are wrong practically speaking, it helps to understand what meaning they might inadvertently convey by saying something that no-one would typically say, and isn't want they wanted to say. Such slips are often the source of the more embarassing gaffes in foreign languages.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 16:19
  • Things are either idiomatic or they aren't. Meaning can be conveyed all sorts of ways but that is not the issue here.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 16:22
  • 1
    I find it helpful, when telling people that they shouldn't use some particular phrase they were asking about, to let them know what it does mean, rather than just that it doesn't mean what they want it to mean. Indications are that people often find this helpful.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 16:26
  • 1
    Firstly, the situations where someone might say it are rare, but they are not nonexistent. Even if they were, the situations someone might say "the sky is green like ripe strawberries" are extremely rare, but that does not affect the grammatical nature of the sentence. "I accuse them to be racist" is grammatical; it doesn't get said because the need to say it is unlikely due to the semantics - and the social factors involved.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 16:41

From a practical ESL perspective, I'd say it doesn't matter if 'accuse people to be racist' is grammatically correct. My reason is that it's hardly ever used. People do (probably incorrectly) say it sometimes, but it's rare, and because of that, even if it is correct, then many (if not most) people will think it's incorrect. You should use 'accuse of being racist' instead (since that is definitely correct and common).

As for a non-ESL perspective, here's my analysis:

It doesn't make grammatical sense, in my opinion to 'accuse someone to be racist' (unless as another person stated, you are meaning that your intention is to do it in order to become racist yourself) although it is terminology I've rarely heard before as a native speaker. Let me explain how it doesn't make sense: 'to be' is an infinitive, or in other words, an unconjugated verb (like 'estar' and 'ser' are infinitives in Spanish). 'Be' is not an infinitive without 'to' in English. 'Of being' is definitely not an infinitive (and you'd never say 'of be'). 'To' is not a preposition here (while 'of' is). People like to think it represents intention, but you can't use it like that if it's not an infinitive, and you can't use it with gerunds / verbal nouns / transitive verbs (i.e. You'd never use it with a conjugated verb; 'be' is the only form for it). Prepositions, like 'of', on the other hand, can be paired with other forms (like 'of being'), where appropriate. You can try to give meanings to 'to', but that doesn't really change that 'to' has no meaning without the verb (which is why, I suppose, people complain about split infinitives), even though full infinitives (e.g. 'to be') have meaning (without tense). Try putting some other infinitives in its place and see if it sounds like it could be grammatically correct for the other meanings:

  • to have: accuse people to have racist (this makes no sense whatsoever)
  • to like: accuse people to like racist (this also makes no sense whatsoever)
  • to want: accuse people to want racist (ditto)
  • to feel: accuse people to feel racist (sounds slightly more like something people would say, but no, it still doesn't make sense unless you're accusing them in order to feel racist yourself, which is grammatically correct; another answer already mentioned this context, which also applies to other verbs, such as the one at hand)

My conclusion is that unless 'to be' is an exceptional verb pairing for 'accuse' then it's probably incorrect. The hint that it might be uncommonly correct is that we have words like 'consider', which another answer already mentioned, which can be used with the infinitive 'to be' in this fashion: e.g. 'I consider him to be a racist' is not considering him in order to become racist yourself, but it really means that you think the person is racist (and it is grammatically correct and expected usage). It's possible that 'accuse' can be (or could once have been) used this way, as far as I know, but it would still be ambiguous and confusing to use it this way, since it has another, almost opposite meaning, and hardly anyone says it. However, I'm confident that almost every native English speaker would know your intention, even if they believe it's incorrect.

It is much more grammatically correct (or at least less controversial) to 'accuse someone of being racist'.

As to whether you should pluralize 'racist' as 'racists' when you pluralize 'people', that depends on what you mean by 'racist'. Are you using it as an adjective (like a state of being) or a noun (like a person)? If you're using it as an adjective, then of course you don't pluralize it. If you use it as a noun, then you would want to pluralize it. So,

  • accuse people of being racists (this is correct if racists is a noun)
  • accuse people of being racist (this is correct if racist is an adjective)

Wiktionary says in the legal sense, 'of' is the proper word to follow accuse. This seems to imply that people might be tempted to use another word, and that it would be incorrect. I don't know their source for this information, however.

Dictionary.com lists several contemporary usage examples, and none of them mention 'to be', but most mention 'of'. That's a good indicator that you shouldn't normally (if ever) say 'accuse to be'.

It should also be noted that 'to' in 'to be' should not be looked at as a preposition, but rather as part of an infinitive. Even if it were correct to use as you mentioned, then it's not really a drop-in replacement for 'of', but it changes the grammatical structure altogether.


You must log in to answer this question.

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