When to use the ‘to’ infinitive correctly in a sentence

Towards the end of a discourse that many people might have followed, on a local television station last Saturday, the anchor said; “Let’s put this matter to bed rest”.

That takes us back to last week’s column that took a look at some idiomatic expressions that have been corrupted to a point where their original meanings are lost. The emphasis then was; use idioms in their original forms.

The quoted text combines two idiomatic expressions that mean different things in their proper perspectives. These are ‘put to bed’ and ‘put to rest’. On its own, the phrase ‘bed rest’ has a different meaning, which is purely medical.

Bed rest is prescribed by medical practitioners as a means through which certain critical medical conditions are managed. The point is, by limiting a patient’s mobility for a specific period of time, injuries like dislocations, fractures and delicate pregnancies that can be disturbed by physical exertion, particularly movement, are effectively managed. Some cases are so serious that the patients get their bowel movements in bed.

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To put to bed has several meanings, one of which journalists are familiar with. In print journalism, putting a newspaper to bed is that point at which all pages have been worked on and are ready to go to the press for publication.

One other meaning of put to bed is when an adult prepares a child for bed. Some children fall asleep only after lullabies have been sung for them or, for those who are slightly older, a story has been told or read to them.

Immoral video

When one endeavours to finish doing something once and for all, or, when a falsehood or rumour is conclusively dealt with, such a matter is said to have been put to rest. This should not be confused with ‘lay to rest’, which means to bury a dead person.

The arrest of suspects in the case of the fake immoral video that was circulated on social media recently seeking to put to disrepute the character of a certain leader may put the matter to rest. In the highlighted idioms, the ‘to’ infinitive joins the word ‘put’ to ‘bed’ and ‘rest’. An infinitive is defined as a verb that functions as a noun, adverb, and adjective or is used with auxiliary verbs, naming an action or state without specifying the subject. It cannot, however, be used as a main verb, neither should the ‘s’, ‘es’, ‘ed’ or ‘ing’ endings be added to it. It is also important to note the difference between the ‘to’ infinitive and the preposition ‘to’.

To quench

When using adjectives of quality or descriptive adjectives,  the infinitive ‘to’ comes after the adjective, often preceded by the word ‘too’. For example: ‘One of the journalists who interviewed President Kenyatta recently was too unprepared to pin him down on the matter of Kenya’s debt to China’.

The same can be used when the word ‘not’ comes before the adjective, followed by the word ‘enough’. For example, ‘ Politicians whose universe revolves around Kenya’s 2022 succession politics were irked enough to attack Murathe regarding his recent sentiments on the subject’.

The ‘to’ infinitive can also be used after behaviour adjectives, namely, wrong, nice, kind, silly and good. For example; ‘It was wrong to insult him in public’.

When we want to demonstrate purpose and necessity, the infinitive ‘to’, coming after a verb that is followed by a noun or pronoun serves the purpose. The sentence; ‘I bought the ice-cream to quench my thirst’ is an expression of purpose while ‘There is still a lot to be done” expresses necessity.

After the words happy, angry, sad, glad, sorry and surprised, which are adjectives of  emotion, we use the ‘to’ infinitive. Examples include “I am happy to see you have fully recovered from that debilitating illness”. “We were sorry to see her lose all her possessions in the fire”.

Sometimes, we use the ‘to’ infinitive after the words who, where, which, whether and what. For example ; “Kenyans do not know who to believe regarding the new education curriculum”, “ He does not know where to hide after his team was beaten”, “They have no idea what to expect after the disciplinary committee meets to decide their fate”.

Finally, the phrase ‘mitigate against’ is ungrammatical. To mitigate is to lessen, make less severe. If one must use the preposition ‘against’ , the word ‘militate’ should be used in place of ‘mitigate’.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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