Leonard Peikoff Grammar Course Lecture 5 Notes

More work on Leonard Peikoff’s Grammar Course.


Infinitives can be adjectives, adverbs, or nouns. Most of the time, functions as noun, is similar to gerund.

Sometimes, idiomatically, you need to use an infinitive or a gerund. e.g. with “admits” you use a gerund. He admits to seeing little of her. (seeing is a gerund object of a preposition here). Compare to “professes”. He professes to see little of her.

Infinitive serving as adjective: I have work to do.
Infinitive serving as adverb: An apple is good to eat.

Infinitive, as basically a verbal noun, has some characteristics of noun and some of verb.
– Characteristics of a noun:
– can function as a subject or object of verb.
To err is human.
He wanted to eat.
– Characteristics of a verb:
– can be modified by adverbs. To run quickly is good.
– Can have a subject or object.
 I wanted him to cry. – “him” is the subject of the infinitive “to cry.”
To eat apples is good. “to eat” functions as a noun but can take object “apples” and “to eat apples” services as the subject of the whole sentence.

Infinitives With No To

Infinitives don’t need the “to”.
– In I let him cry., “cry” is an infinitive. We can compare this to I allowed him to cry. Peikoff says “let” condenses “allow to” into one word and so you drop the “to”.
– In I made him eat, “eat” is an infinitive. Compare to I forced him to eat.

LP says that generally, when you have two different verbs right next to each other, the second is the infinitive form because you can’t have two different verbs right next to each other.

Aspects of Infinitives

Infinitives have tense and voice.


Two main tenses for infinitives: present and past.
Example: take
– Present active: to take
– Present passive: to be taken
– Perfect† active: to have taken
– Perfect† passive: to have been taken
– No future infinitive in English
– Present progressive: to be taking
– Present progressive passive: to be being taken
– Past progressive active: to have been taking
– Past progressive passive: to have been being taken
†There is a clarification later in the lecture because a student asks a question. Peikoff actually discusses these in terms of being both “perfect” and “past.” Peikoff clarifies that these are basically equivalent in this context. He says if you focus on “have” you call it the perfect, but since there’s no “plain” past infinitive – since there is no way to form it without the auxiliary “have” – it’s the same as the past, it’s the only way of referring to the non-present.

What tense do you use when?
– Present infinitive: when the infinitive refers to a time which is either the same as or later than the main verb. Peikoff says you use the present infinitive 99/100 times.
– E.g. I like to eat – present infinitive because it’s the same time as the liking.
– E.g. I intended to do it. – intending is in past, but doing is same time as intending, so present infinitive.
– Perfect infinitive: when the infinitive refers to a time which is before that of the main verb.
I would like to have lived in Aristotle’s time. – You wish now that you had lived thousands of year ago. This gets the perfect infinitive.
– Compare:  I would have liked to live in Aristotle’s time. Peikoff says this whole thing is in the past and so you don’t give it the perfect infinitive. I think the idea is that you are looking at things from the perspective of what you would have enjoyed in the past as opposed to the previous example, which was talking about what you would like right now.
– ❌ Erroneous:  I would have liked to have lived in Aristotle’s time. No English use for such a sentence.

Splitting Infinitives

As a general rule, don’t split constructions. Because English is a distributive language (where order matters), and you can’t tell what goes with what from word endings, then order matters and splitting stuff up needlessly is generally bad.
– Don’t do stuff like Jack yesterday hit the ball. or The building, which he had late last spring turned over to the tenants, was deteriorating.
– Split infinitive example: **The golf intended to, in some way, break the record.

– Rule against splitting infinitives not absolute.
– E.g. It frightened the girl to suddenly find herself in this position. Peikoff says if you rewrote this as It frightened the girl suddenly to find herself in this position, it would be ambiguous whether suddenly modified the “frightened” or the “find.” “Squinting construction”.

Leaving Things Dangling

General rule on verbals: Do not dangle them. You dangle something when you can’t easily connect it to the words it refers to.

Dangling Participle
Watching the movie, the candy soon disappeared.

Makes it look like candy is doing the watching.
My guess as to how to rewrite:

Watching the movie, we made the candy disappear.

Dangling Gerund
By polishing the silver, your table can be pretty.

Makes it sound like the table can be pretty if it polishes the silver.

My rewrite:

By polishing the silver, you can make your table pretty.”

Dangling Infinitive
To see properly, eyeglasses must be clean.

Makes it sound like eyeglasses must be clean so that the eyeglasses themselves can see properly.

My rewrite:

To see properly, you must keep your eyeglasses clean.”



What can pronouns do? Anything a noun can do.

List of Pronoun Types

 1. Personal pronouns – I, though, he, she, it etc. case important issue here.

 2. Compound personal pronoun – myself, yourself, himself.
– 2 legitimate uses
– Reflexive – subject acting on himself – Jack cut himself
– Intensive – stressing – I myself say it.
– Invalid use:
– Error: I want this kept a secret between John and yourself.
– Fixed: I want this kept a secret between John and you.
– Error: Bill and myself send our regards.
– Peikoff notes sometimes people say “myself” instead of “I” or “me” cuz they don’t wanna be egoistic..
3. Relative pronouns – pronoun with two functions – refers to antecedent, and also serves as subordinating conjunction.

The car that I bought was expensive.

“that” serves as an object within its clause – I bought that.

The car that is on the street is mine.

“that” serves as subject within its clause – that is on the street.

The idea that man can lift a ton is absurd.

“that” here is a pure conjunction – serves no grammatical role as subject or object within its clause.

that, who, and which are three most important relative pronouns.

That can often be left out, especially in less formal writing.

4. Interrogative pronoun – e.g. who did it?

5. Demonstrative pronounsI never saw that happen before

6. Indefinite pronounsSomeone is in the lobby.
You and they not indefinite pronouns, considered poor form to use them as such. E.g. She is the kind of woman who flirts with you – uses personal pronoun as indefinite reference.

7. Reciprocal pronouns — Each other, one another

Pronoun Case

Case – Inflections applied to substantives (nouns).

I like the girl.
The girl likes me.
“I” vs “me” – subject vs object forms.

In languages like latin and greek, regular nouns, like “servant”, have case and have different endings depending on where they are in the sentence. English is distributive and generally conveys whether something is the subject or object by word order. Nouns in general do have a possessive case indicated by an apostrophe + s. Peikoff mentions that it’s considered bad form to use possessive case for inanimate objects (e.g. “the room’s length” — you are supposed to say “the length of the room” or something like that.)

So the last stronghold of case in English is personal pronouns and one relative pronoun (who/whom).

Types of case:
1. Subjective case (note: also sometimes called the nominative case)
2. Objective case
3. Possessive case

Confusion About “Its”

Peikoff explains that in general ‘s indicates possession. And the other big use for apostrophes is omission – like in don’t the apostrophe indicates that the o has been omitted from do not. So then people think that the possessive for it must be it’s, but it is a special case where the possessive form – its – has no apostrophe, and the apostrophe+s form it’s actually indicates the omission of a letter.

Case and linking verbs – Peikoff says that verb to be takes the same case on both sides because it doesn’t indicate action but state. E.g. It was she who paid is correct, because the it before the “was” is serving as the subject and so the “she” has to agree with it. This page names this issue as the predicate nominative and talks about it as being a controversy in which the view has gradually changed to accepting stuff like It is me instead of It is I, especially in less formal writing.

❌ ERRONEOUS: My initial thoughts: listening to what Peikoff said and reading the article I linked, I think the idea is that you keep things in the subjective case if you have a linking verb linked to the same subject. But I don’t think it would apply to the case of a different subject and object, cuz then you don’t have a mere renaming of a noun.
âś… CORRECTED: Peikoff applies the idea of keeping things on both sides of “to be” to cases where the pronouns refer to different people. See below

Subjects of Infinitive Always in Objective Case

They did not expect us to entertain. – “us” is the subject of the infinitive “to entertain” and gets the objective case.
They wanted him to cry. – “him” is the subject of the infinitive and thus gets the objective case.
Even though these pronouns are subjects, they come after a verb and so that makes them objective case.

Sentence completion:

1. Did you take him to be (I/me)?  – the answer is “me”. Peikoff applies the idea of having the same case on both sides – so because it’s “him” on one side it has to be “me” on the other.

Pronoun Case Mistakes

Misuse of subjective case.

This money belongs only to you and I.

This is wrong. “I” is governed by the preposition “to” so it should be “you and me.”

Everyone but Tom and he entered the race.

This is wrong. “but” is a preposition in this sentence, so it should be “Tom and him”.
Webster’s 3rd dictionary:

A group of we girls went shopping yesterday.

“we” is an object of the preposition “of” so it should be “us”. “girls” is an appositive.

Misuse of objective case

Two and two, I know (he says, we may think, etc.), is four.

“I know” is a parenthetical remark and isn’t really part of the grammar of the sentence.

O’Henry is a writer whom I think will be read for centuries.

Whom is wrong.
The actual core of sentence is O’Henry is a writer who will be read for centuries., so “who” gets subjective case cuz it’s the subject in “who will be read.” The “I think” doesn’t change anything. Compare to O’Henry is a writer whom I think well of, where “whom” would be correct.

Who/Whom shall I say is calling?

“I shall say” is a parenthetical statement. The first word is not the object of “I shall say” but the subject of “is calling”, so it’s “Who.”

Case of pronoun is determined by its use in its own clause

He will fine who(m)ever wastes time, and who(m)ever he hates.

First clause: “whoever” is the subject of “whoever wastes time.” The whole clause serves as the object of “fine”. (Would be different analysis if “whomever” was just by itself after fine).

Second clause: “whomever” is the object of (rewritten for grammar clarity) “he hates whomever.”

He has respect for who(m)ever has money.

It is “whoever” because “whoever” is the subject of “whoever has money.” The whole clause is the object of “for”.

Pronoun Number

Some pronouns have non-obvious number.


Each of these books (is/are) rare.

It’s “is” because you are referring to each book separately. “Each” means “each one.”

Also need agreement with pronouns:

Everyone has their own hobby.

“Everyone” is singular, so you’re supposed to do “Every has his own hobby” or “his or her own hobby”.

Some pronouns can go either way re: number, such as “none”.

All is lost – all can go either way, and in this context “All” stands for “everything”, so you use singular.


How many battles did you lose?
All of them are lost – plural in this case.

Be sure to know what your antecedent is!

Plato is among the Greeks who have influenced mankind.

“Greeks” is the antecedent of “who” here, so plural “have” is needed.

Plato is the only one of the Greeks who has written many dialogues.

“One” is the antecedent of “who”, so singular “has” needed.

Noun Number

A list of many books, in addition to thousands of phonograph records, have been given to the public library.

Wrong. “List” is singular, so verb should be “has”.

The staff has conflicting opinions about this gift.

Collective noun. Verb agreement depends on how you’re thinking about the noun. Are you thinking of the noun as one entity acting together, use singular. If you’re thinking of it as a group of individuals, use plural. The way this sentence is written, I’d say it’s emphasizing differences in the staff and so should be “have conflicting opinions.” LP agrees.

The one thing I myself do not like are the obscenities in these books.

You have to make verbs agree with the subject, not the complement. So it should be “is the obscenities.”

Unclear Antecedents – Five Cases

More Than One Possible Antecedent

Bill warned his uncle that he would be leaving on Tuesday.

“he” could be pointing to “Bill” or “uncle”.

A particular type of this error is when the pronoun is really far from the noun it refers to.

He sat by the window all day and worked steadily at his editing of the magazine that had been lying on the corner table. It was too small to give much light.

“It” is referring to window, lol.

Broad Reference

(Not sure I get the scope of this category of error. Kinda sounds like the essence is, be careful when using pronouns to refer to more than a simple noun. It can be okay to do so, but don’t be ambiguous.)

Babe Ruth was hitless during the game, which caused much comment.

“which” could refer to the “game” but probably refers to the whole preceding clause. Peikoff says the ambiguity between referring to the game and referring to the clause is the problem.

Babe Ruth was hitless during the game, which many men attended.

This one is fine because it’s unambiguous.

Echo loved Narcissus, but he loved himself even more; this is true in real life, too.

“this” is super unclear.

We were asked to remove our coats, which we did happily.

“which” refers to act of removing coats, and this is fine cuz it’s not ambiguous.

Pronouns With No Antecedent

They have this great chef at the restaurant.

no reference for “this”, needs to be “a great chef”.

Implied Antecedent

My mother is a music teacher. It is a profession I hate.

“It” refers to “teaching music”, but that hasn’t been stated.

Same pronoun with different antecedents in same sentence

Although it is cool by the lake, it looks full of swimmers.

First “it” is the “it” you use when saying stuff like “it is raining.” Second “it’ is referring to lake.

Which/that/who – Restrictive vs Non-restrictive

who – people
which – things
that – both

Peikoff goes into some fine distinctions here that didn’t seem super important. Basically, the more you’re focusing on individual people/humanity, the more you have to use who, and the more impersonal you’re being in your discussion of people, the more that or which are okay.

Grand pianos, which are uncommon, are necessary to modern orchestras.

“which are uncommon” is an aside. Non-restrictive clause. Such clauses can take “which” so this sentence is okay.

Grand pianos which are out of tune are a performer’s nightmare.

“which are out of tune” is essential to the meaning. Restrictive clause. Restrictive clauses should get “that” so this sentence is wrong.

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