Infinitive phrases can act as noun, adjectives, and adverbs.

I'm not very sure what kind of infinitive are the following:

Soon it will be hell to go outside.

Since it's next to the noun "hell," maybe it's acting as an adjective?

They hadn't held hands.

It's acting as a noun? I'm not very sure because it doesn't have "to."

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    There is no infinitive in they hadn't held hands. It is the past tense. To go outside refers to the action of doing so, which is compared to hell, so it's acting as a noun. Feb 19, 2021 at 11:11
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    even though "hell" isn't a pure adjective (despite its meaning here - "extremely hot/dangerous"), I parse "to go outside" as an adjective (infinitive) phrase complement (as in "she was nervous to bring up the problem") Feb 19, 2021 at 11:33
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    @AndrewTobilko "to go outside" is an infinitival clause functioning as extraposed subject in an extraposition construction. In your example, "to bring up children" is quite unnatural, though it would be parsed as complement of "nervous".
    – BillJ
    Feb 19, 2021 at 11:48
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    In your second example, "held hands" is not an infinitival clause but a subordinate past participial clause functioning as complement of the perfect auxiliary verb "hadn't", where "held" is a past participle with "hands" as its object. I've posted an answer dealing with just your first example.
    – BillJ
    Feb 19, 2021 at 12:12
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    I'd say Soon it will be hell to go outside is more or less an adjectival phrase (by analogy with Soon it will be dark). But syntactically, the word hell here seems to be functioning adjectivally within the clause anyway - compare Soon it will be easy to go out. Feb 19, 2021 at 12:52

1 Answer 1


Soon it will be hell [to go outside].

This is an extraposition construction, where the dummy pronoun "it" is subject and the bracketed infinitival clause is extraposed subject, outside the verb phrase.

The basic (non-extraposed) version is

[To go outside] will soon be hell.

where this time the infinitival clause is subject.

Incidentally, I would strongly recommend that you drop the terms 'noun' adjective' and 'adverb' when labelling such clauses. The classification of subordinate clauses is based on their internal form and function rather than spurious analogies with the parts of speech.

  • I was following this website: english-grammar-revolution.com/infinitive.html. "[Infinitive phrases] acts as a noun, adjective, or adverb ..." Actually, the top results for "infinitive phrases" say the same. grammar.yourdictionary.com/grammar/sentences/… "Infinitives can act as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs."
    – wyc
    Feb 19, 2021 at 12:01
  • @alexchenco My advice to you is to ignore it. People can put any nonsense on the 'Net and expect it be believed. But the most important thing here is that your example is an extraposed construction in which "to go outside" is an infinitival clause in extaposed subject function.
    – BillJ
    Feb 19, 2021 at 12:07
  • But even dictionaries make the noun, adjective, adverb distinction: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/bare-infinitive. noun [ C ]"
    – wyc
    Feb 19, 2021 at 12:18
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    @alexchenco You misunderstand the dictionary, It is saying that the word "noun phrase" is a noun because it consists of just two nouns. It doesn't mean that it functions as a noun in a sentence. In any case, "to go outside" is a clause not a phrase.
    – BillJ
    Feb 19, 2021 at 12:28
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    @alexchenco The problem with that is that "noun" is a grammatical term. Infinitivals have an understood subject as well as a predicate that has a verb as its head. Noun phrases are of course completely different. The only similarity is that they can both be subjects (or other functions) but grammatically they have totally different forms.
    – BillJ
    Feb 19, 2021 at 15:31

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