The Classification of Infinitives: A Statistical Study -- By: James L. Boyer

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 06:1 (Spring 1985)
Article: The Classification of Infinitives: A Statistical Study
Author: James L. Boyer

The Classification of Infinitives:
A Statistical Study

James L. Boyer

Detailed information is provided here regarding the various functional classifications of the infinitive, much of it never before generally available. Special attention is given to the listing and classification of governing words; the semantic interrelationship between concepts which use the infinitive, even when they occur in differing structural patterns; the long- debated question of thesubject of the infinitive with an attempt to state clearly what actual usage indicates; and a brief, rather negative discussion of the use and non-use of the article with infinitives.


Starting with a listing generated by a Gramcord1 computerized search of all infinitives occurring in the UBS Greek NT, a detailed study was made. Each infinitive was analyzed for classification, the “subject” of the infinitive, the use or non-use of the article, tense, voice, and the word governing the infinitive. This information was then sorted and counted in many pertinent combinations by the computer to provide the material basis and statistical data for this study. Three major areas are explored in this article: the functional classification of infinitives, the problem of the “subject” of the infinitive, and the use or non-use of the article with infinitives.

A Classification of Usages

Subject Infinitives

An infinitive may function as the subject of a sentence or clause, i.e., the doer of the action or that to which the state or condition of the verb is predicated. The abstract character of the infinitive as a verbal noun gives an impersonal character to the verb of such sentences. This use of the infinitive is also common in English, although usually in English the pronoun ‘it’ is used to signal a delayed subject and the infinitive subject follows the verb; “it is necessary to go” is more natural to the English ear than “to go is necessary,” although the infinitive functions as subject in either case.

Subject of Impersonal Verbs

Luke 20:22 provides an example of this usage: ἔξεστιν ἡμᾶς Καίσαρι φόρον δοῦναι ἤ οὔ; / ‘Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar?’2 The subject infinitive most frequently occurs with certain verbs which are either always or predominantly impersonal. The verbs actually found with an infinitive subject in the NT are δεῖ3...

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