Infinite verbforms are verbforms that don't reveal by themselves who is the subject of the action described by the verb. "He comes" is a finite verbform. We not only know what the absent person is doing, we no as well that a singular person is doing that and we would know that even in the case that we leave out the personal pronoun he. Infinitve verbforms in general, there are exceptions, inherit the subject from the finite verb.
Learning more you can do better.
Learning more he can do better.
Learning more we can do better.
In all these cases learning inherits the subject from the main clause. The fact that in English only the 3rd person singular is marked, at least if it is not a modal verb, doesn't change anything to the general logic. In other languages we can deduce from the verbform who executes the action.
However this formal definition doesn't give any hint allowing to answer the question why we need infinitive verbforms. We need them, because they allow to shorten subordinate clauses of very different kinds.
|Shortening a subordinate clause with the past participle|
|temporal clause:||Arrived at home, he realized that he had forgotten his keys.|
|After he had arrived at home, he realized that he had forgotten his key.|
|conditional clause::||Prepared by someone who knows how to prepare it, it is delicious.|
|If it is prepared by someone who knows how to prepare it, it is delicious.|
|causal clause:||Arrived before the time agreed, he had to wait.|
|Since he had arrived before the time agreed, he had to wait.|
|relative clause:||The pealed apples has to be put into water, otherwise they will become brown.|
|The apples has to be put into water after they have been pealed, otherwise they will become brown.|
|Shortening a subordinate clause with the present participle|
|temporal clause::||Drinking a beer, they talked about this and that.
=> While the drank a beer, they talked about this and that.
|modal clause:||Ignoring the interjection he continued with his speech.
If infintive forms are used to shorten a subordinate clause we don't really need them, we can always construct with a subordinate clause. In the case that they are used as an adverb, "Laughing she went away", there is no alternative. A possible alternative would be "With a laugh she went away" but in this case she wouldn't laugh all the time.
From a philosophical point of view the past participle is somehow enigmatic. In the case of a transitive verb, that has a direct object, the past participle is passive. An eaten appel is an apple that has been eaten and a washed shirt is a shirt that has been washed. A sentence of the type "The work done, he was happy" is therefore to be translated in passive voice: After the work had been done, he was happy. The past participle of an intrasitive verb is active. However the sentence "Arrived at the train station, he made a phone call" has to be translated in active voice: After he had arrived at the train station, he made a phone call. In the case that the past participle is used to form compound tenses, it is always used actively: I have eaten an apple; I have washed my shirt. That's like that in any language. If a past participle should be understood as passive or active we have to deduce from the context or to be more precise, we deduce nothing. For the human brain it is so natural to interpret the past participle as passive or active depending on the context, that we are not even aware that there is a problem. It seems that when it comes to verbalizing the world, the humain brain is only interested in efficiency and doesn't care about logic. As long as a structure works, as long as the world can be described precisely with that structure, it is accepted.
From a formal point of view the present participle corresponds to the participio presente. However this form doesn't exist any more in roman languages. The participio presente in words like viajante (voyager) => from viajar, pedinte (beggar) => from pedir, estudante ( student) => from estudar are lexicalised. They steem from the latin present participle and emigrated to English in words like student. The English present participle is called present participle because it has the same function as the present participle in latin. However in the course of history roman languages changed completely the original latin system. The latin present particple disapeared and the gerundio assumed the function of the latin present participle, with the result that the gerundio assumes in roman languages the function assumed by the present participle in English. The functions of the English gerund were assumed by the infinitive in roman language. It is sometimes a good idea not to confuse the English present participle witth the gerund. There is no difference in the form, but the syntactical function is completely different, see as welll gerundio.
However Portuguese invented a new verbal form with which subordinate clauses can be shortened, the infinitivo pessoal, see chapter 16. This verbal form doesn't exist in any other language or at least in not in any language known to this author. If we take the definition normally given in grammar books of infinite verb forms, verbs that are not conjugated, the infinitivo pessoal is not an infinitive verb form, because it is conjugated. However it can be used in any context where an infinitive can be used and has the big advantage that he doesn't inherit its subject from the finite verb and can therefore be used as well if the subject of the main clause differs from the subject of the subordinate clause.
Below you see a comparison between the different ways to shorten a subordinate clause with an infnitive, gerundio / present participle, past participle. For a more detailed explanation how to use the infinitive forms in French an Italian see present, particple and infinitive in French and infinitive verb forms in Italian. Concerning german the translations are didactically motivated, in other words, they don't comply with the german standard grammar. Actually the possibilities to shorten a subordinate clause with an infinitive form are very limited in german. Concerning the infinitive we only mention the subordinate clauses where the infinitive competes with the gerundio. Since the infinitive is a verbal noun, in other words it can have the syntactical functions of a noun, it is introduced by a preoposition and with a preposition we can describe the relationship between the action described by the finite form and the action described by the infinite form. There are actually more subordinate clauses that can be shortened with the infinitive, but we mention only the subordinate clauses where the infinitive competes with the gerund.
|shortening of subordinate clauses with an infinitive|
|temporal clause (When we have left the station, we ask a taxi driver.)|
|Depois de sair da estação, perguntamos um taxista.
||After leaving the station, we ask a taxi driver.**||Después de salir de la estación, preguntamos a un taxista.||Nach Verlassen des Bahnhofs, fragen wir einen Taxifahrer.***|
|Antes de ir à praia, é preciso pôr creme no corpo.
||Before going to the beach, it is necessary to put lotion on.||Antes de ir a la playa, hay que darse crema.||Bevor gehen zum Strand, muss man sich eincremen.|
|concessive clause (Although he had studied, he didn't passed the exam.)|
|Apesar de ter estudado muito, não passou a prova.
||Despite having studied a lot, he didn't pass the exam.**||A pesar de haber estudiado mucho, no aprobó el exámen.||Obwohl gelernt haben, bestand er die Prüfung nicht.|
|Passe o exame mesmo sem ter estudado!
||I passed the exam without having studied.||Passé el exámen sin haber estudiado.||Ich habe die Prüfung bestanden, ohne gelernt zu haben. *|
|Sem dizer nada, se foi embora.||Without saying anything, he went away. **||Sin decir nada, se fue.||Ohne etwas zu sagen, ging er weg.*|
|causal clause (Since he smoked too much, he got ill.)|
|Por fumar muito, ficou enfermo.||Because of smoking too much, he got ill.**||Por fumar mucho, se enfermó.||Weil zuviel rauchen, wurde er krank.|
|shortening subordinate clauses with a gerundio|
|temporal clause (While I was reading your letter, I thought of my daughters.)|
|Fiquei pensando nas minhas meninas lendo a sua carta.||I thought of my daughthers while reading your letter.||Pensé en mis hijas leyendo su carta.||Ich dachte an meine Töchter lesend Ihren Brief.|
|concessive clause (Even if we are afraid, we won't run away.)|
|Mesmo tendo medo, não fugiremos.||Even being afraid, we will not run away.||Incluso teniendo miedo, no vamos a escapar.||Auch wenn Angst habend, werden wir nicht flüchten.|
|causal clause (Since he was ill, he couldn't go to school.)|
|Estando doente não pôde ir à escola.||Being sick, he couldn't go to school.||Estando enfermo, no podía ir a la escuela.||Krank seiend, konnte er nicht zur Schule gehen.|
|conditional clause (If we take the train, we will arrive earlier.)|
|Tomando o comboio, chegaremos mais cedo.||By taking the train, we arrive earlier.||Tomando el tren llegaremos más temprano.||Den Zug nehmend, kommen wir früher an.|
|relative clause (I saw a lot of people who worked.)|
| Vi muitas pessoas trabalhando.
||I saw a lot of working people.||Vi muchas personas que trabajaban.||Ich sah viele Leute arbeitend.|
|shortening subordinate clauses with a participio perfeito|
|temporal clause (After the work had been done, we went away.)|
|Feito o trabalho, fomos embora.||The work done, we went away.||Hecho el trabajo, nos fuimos.||Die Arbeit erledigt, sind wir gegangen.|
|causal clause (Since he had caught a cold he didn't go to work.)|
|Pegada a gripe, não fui trabalhar.||Having caught a cold, he didn't go to work.||Habiéndose resfriado, no fue al trabajo.||Angesteckt mit Grippe, nicht er ging zur Arbeit.|
|conditinal clause (If they accept our rules, they won't get fired.)|
|Cumpridas as nossas regras, não serão expulsos.||Accepting our rules, they won't get fired. *||Aceptando nuestras reglas, no serán despedidos.*||Akzeptiert unsere Regeln, werden sie nicht entlassen. *|
|concessive clause (Although he was injured, he could survive some days.)|
|Mesmo ferido, pôde ter sobrevivido mais alguns dias.
||Even hurt, he could survive some days.||Incluso herido, podía sobrevivir un par de días.||Selbst verletzt, konnte er noch ein paar Tage überleben.|
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