Buck's English: To see or not see: Do we need the 'to'?

Gene Owens: “To see” is an infinitive, and in the English language, infinitives are generally formed by the word “to” preceding the basic form of a verb.
By Gene Owens, For The Oklahoman Published: June 1, 2014

Jim Morton of Edmond questions the necessity of “to” in expressions such as “help us to see. . . .”

“It seems to me that the word ‘to’ ... is simply an extra and unnecessary word thrown in, when ‘help us see’ clearly expresses the desired thought with fewer words,” he said, as Buck and the boys helped him push his out-of-gas car to a pump at Curly’s Soonerco.

That’s true if your ultimate aim is brevity, Jim. “To see” is an infinitive, and in the English language, infinitives are generally formed by the word “to” preceding the basic form of a verb.

But often the infinitive serves quite well without the “to.” Such infinitives are called “bare infinitives.” The bare infinitive is frequently used after the verb “help,” but the “to” infinitive is proper also.

Thus one can be grammatical in saying “help me move this bale,” and equally grammatical in saying “help me to move this bale.” It depends on your judgment as to which way it sounds better.

When Shakespeare wrote “To be or not to be,” he could have written “Be or not be” more succinctly. But the shorter version would have been less forceful.

When Charles Wesley wrote “Come Thou Almighty King,” he could have written, “Help us sing thy name” and “help us praise.” But he wrote “Help us thy name to sing” and “help us to praise.”

Buck figures the average native English speaker knows instinctively when the bare infinitive can be used, and in most such cases the complete infinitive is also correct.

“Help me push-start my pickup,” said Gopher.

“You push,” said Floyd, “and I’ll get in when it’s time to pop the clutch.”

Send questions for Buck to BucksEnglish@AOL.com. Please let Buck know what town you’re from. For other writing by Gene Owens, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.