this question concerns a bit of modality and ellipsis in English. In such constructions as "can do nothing but ", "do/does nothing but" we usually use bare infinitives, but what about semi-modal verbs like "need" and "dare"?

Is it grammatical and does it sound natural to write:

  1. He need do nothing but (to) wait and see.
  2. He dare do nothing but (to) lie.?
  • Auxiliaries "need" and "dare" take bare infinitival complements, while lexical "need" and "dare" take to-infinitivals.
    – BillJ
    Sep 4, 2023 at 7:14
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    @BillJ - How is an English language learner supposed to understand that? Please explain in simpler terms. Sep 4, 2023 at 8:05
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    @Quack E. Duck, This part of grammar, the peculiarity of the semi-modals, is not strange for me. What made me ask this question is applying the very same verb in two shapes at one time. Such Verbs as "need" and "dare" are used in the modal form only in negative and interrogative sentences, whereas affirmative sentences require them to be in the form of simple Verbs (exceptions can be found in poetry or in some stable phrases like "I dare say"). Examples: 1) I need to tell you something - (Affirmative, simple verb). 2) I need only tell you something - (negative meaning, modal verb).
    – Deeo
    Sep 4, 2023 at 19:49
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    The sentences in the question itself have modal and simple verbs together, with their grammar differences still working. People May say "He needs to wait and see", but not "He need wait and see", so it causes some discrepancy in the sentences above. I could just write "He need do nothing, but he needs to wait and see", but It's a bit wordy and has the clumsy repetition of the verb. So I was wondering whether I could possible write both the sentences, having shortened all that more compactly.
    – Deeo
    Sep 4, 2023 at 20:04
  • @Deeo That is a really great question! I hope someone writes a quality answer to match :D For what it's worth, I believe both your suggested sentences sound better without the "to," especially the first one. Sep 5, 2023 at 2:36

2 Answers 2


He need do nothing but (to) wait and see. He dare do nothing but (to) lie. [buzzer] None dare call it treason. [famous line]

need and dare there are used as auxiliaries and do not take to.

Otherwise, in other uses, they take "to".

I need to leave now. He dared to leave early.


In American English, it is more common to write or speak of the negative of anything than of the positive nothing--in other words, I'd prefer "He doesn't need to do anything but wait and see" and "He doesn't dare do anything but lie".

In the latter example, this use of "dare" seems slightly awkward to me, and instead I'd probably say something like, "He wouldn't risk saying anything but a lie".

I also agree with Lambie about the auxiliaries.

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