They acted as if they were mourning him rather than helping him (to) start a new life.

The first step to help him was (to) give him a good education.

You can omit to in the first sentence. But you can't in the second sentence.

I know this, but I'm not sure why. I would like to know why.

Note: they're sentences I wrote myself.

1 Answer 1


Good question! When help has an object immediately followed by a complement clause, the to is optional:

  • Please help me (to) unpack these boxes.

In the second sentence of your question, the to-clause is not a complement of help, so the to is mandatory.

Let and make only take clausal complements without to:

  • Let me unpack these boxes.
  • Don't make me unpack these boxes.

These patterns have to be learned on a verb-specific basis. Allow and force have similar meanings but require to:

  • Allow me to unpack these boxes.
  • Don't force me to unpack these boxes.
  • 1
    Nice post! "These patterns have to be learned on a verb-specific basis" <--- Hmmm. I don't think this is the best advice. The verbs that can take plain form/bare infinitival complements form an absolutely tiny group (Let, make, help, verbs of perception, modal verbs. That's it!) So everything else that takes an infinitive takes a to-infinitive - which is good to know ... . Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 0:00
  • 1
    Fair enough. I should have said certain verbs are exceptions—it is not completely predictable from meaning.
    – nschneid
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 0:08

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