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When should I use the infinitive "to" at the end of a sentence? For example:

My father said that I have to clean the bathroom, but I don't want to.

Or can I just say

My father said that I have to clean the bathroom, but I don't want.

Feel free for giving some examples.

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  • No you can't. It leaves the sentence hanging in the air. In short, it's wrong. but I don't want to. is a short form of saying but I don't want to clean the bathroom. The to is essential to the meaning. Apr 18 at 23:21
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Because rules of English grammar were derived by linguistic prescription from classical language grammar, at one time it was stated that one should not end a sentence with a preposition nor should one split an infinitive.

However, descriptive linguistics finds acceptable, colloquial English often omits words and splits infinitives with impunity. When a parent commands a child to go to bed, a response of, "I don't want to!" is just as clear as, and more pithy, than, "I don't want to go to bed!". The phrase, "go to bed," is understood in context. However, the final "to" is never omitted.

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  • True. But the OP is asking about omitting the final "to". Apr 19 at 0:47
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    And, the "to" in "I don't want to" is not a preposition, but a subordinator, a special marker for VPs of infinitival clauses.
    – BillJ
    Apr 19 at 10:04
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This phenomenon is technically called stranding. There are only a handful of words that can be stranded in English, such as the auxiliaries and the prepositions:

Auxiliary stranding:
He can talk to her but I can't
Preposition straining
What are you talking about?

The infinitive marker "to" can also be stranded, as your example suggests. However, a lexical verb such as "want" cannot be stranded. Therefore, the second sentence is ungrammatical:

My father said that I have to clean the bathroom, but I don't want UNGRAMMATICAL

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Let's analyse the two versions separately.

My father said that I have to clean the bathroom, but I don't want.

The problem with this sentence is that want is a verb of incomplete predication in this sentence and such verbs demand a subject complement or an object complement to make a complete sentence. Since such isn't the case with this sentence, it is grammatically incorrect.

My father said that I have to clean the bathroom, but I don't want to [clean the bathroom.]

In this sentence want is a transitive verb, and because transitive verbs demand an object, the above sentence is a grammatically correct sentence. The object of the sentence is the implied infinitive phrase to clean the bathroom (It's not incorrect to leave out part of a sentence like this; this is called ellipsis in grammar.)

Therefore, this version of the sentence is the correct one.

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    The verb is not "want to", but just "want". The "to" is a subordinator, a special marker for VPs of infinitival clauses. Here, the head of the VP is missing but understood as "clean the bathroom". Note that clauses do not function as objects, so it's wrong to say that "clean the bathroom" is object.
    – BillJ
    Apr 19 at 10:29
  • @BillJ: Thank you. I must have been groggy when I said want to is a prepositional verb. to is of course the infinitive marker here. Rest, I preferred to answer in the light of the traditional grammar. Apr 19 at 11:05

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