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Is it a prepositional phrase or an infinitive phrase? In this phrase, we have to preceding a word that could be either a verb in base form or a noun in singular form.

Some other examples of this pattern, along with some approximate frequency data as to how the last word is used generally, include:

(1) He went to work. (48% V, 52% N)

(2) He went to school. (1% V, 99% N)

(3) He went to run. (75% V, 25% N)

I think (1) is entirely ambiguous as to whether work is a noun or verb. As a noun, work usually refers to the act of working, but it also connotes a place at which one is employed. In the latter sense, it can serve as a complement to the preposition to. But, depending upon context, the speaker might intend the verb sense of the word. In the case of (1), context makes a difference.

As for (2), the data suggests that school could be regarded as one of those singular nouns that can occur without a determiner and so is acting as a noun complement to the preposition to. Yet, why not interpret school as an intransitive verb having the sense: to educate in an institution of learning? An example of that usage is, "The child was schooled at great cost to her family." In that light, it seems natural to read to school as an infinitive phrase. In the case of (2), context seems to make no difference.

In (3), I think run must be a verb. I don't perceive any noun sense for the word that could be used without a determiner.

Like school, bed is used as a noun about 99% of the time, it has an intransitive verb sense, and context seems to be of no help in establishing the function of the word.

Perhaps the answer is that the absence of determiners conclusively indicates that to bed is an infinitive phrase. I'm really not sure.

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    I'm a bit confused about the context of this question. I'm a native speaker and I find it unquestionable that "bed" and "school" are nouns in "He went to bed" and "He went to school" ("He went to work" could be either, but anytime I would say this sentence, I would know which form I meant). Do you not have an intuitive sense of whether they are nouns and verbs? Or do you have a sense, but don't accept that as data and want some more formal way to show the part of speech?
    – sumelic
    Jul 13 at 6:39
  • Where do those percentages come from? They are in a block quote, suggesting that you are quoting that text, but from where? Jul 13 at 7:01
  • You can use verbs in similar constructions "He went to repair their car", "He went to pick some flowers", etc. But as herisson says, bed, work, and school are nouns (albeit ones without articles before them).
    – Stuart F
    Jul 13 at 8:30

1 Answer 1

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Bed as a verb is transitive, although it's a bit archaic. Of course, the transitive verb requires an object to be stated. School as a verb is also transitive and requires a stated object. They are not intransitive verbs.

Since they are not intransitive verbs, they must have an object if they are to be treated as verbs.

"I went to bed" does not have an object, which it needs if bed is to be treated as a verb. Consequently bed must be a noun.

Note that intransitive verbs like work and run are not necessarily nouns. Work could be, since it's a mass noun and doesn't need a determiner, but run needs one to be a noun.

In the case of bed (which must be a noun in the example sentence) the to is a preposition of motion, not a particle of an infinitive verb.

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  • I agree that "to bed" is a prepositional phrase in OP's example, but many dictionaries give intransitive senses of both "bed" and "school". I've often heard the phrase "bed down for the night", for example. Jul 13 at 6:59
  • @MarcInManhattan I would posit that bed down is a phrasal verb there, I think, because you can't "bed for the night" and "bed down" is inseparable. Jul 13 at 7:06
  • Fair enough, but M-W, for example, still lists other intransitive senses of "bed". Jul 13 at 7:20
  • Virtually any noun can be used as a verb, in several kinds of meaning. Bed is no exception. As for the original question, go to bed is a fixed phrase, so fixed that Gotobed is a proper name in England. Jul 13 at 14:49

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