All I did was (to) wash

In my Collins Grammar book I found the following example:

1) All I did was wash the little girl's ears

Would it be wrong to say "All I did was to wash the little girl's ears"? Is too a mistake or it may just be omitted from the full sentence with "to"?

Thanks in advance
 
  • johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I’m sure that, technically, the inclusion of to is wrong. The sentence uses the verb to do as an emphatic or factual auxiliary, and auxiliary verbs (except ought) take the bare infinitive.

    Edit : corrections below.
     
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    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I'm not sure if it's a mistake or not to add the "to", but I definitely prefer the version without it.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    But, first, the infinitive clause isn't the complement of 'do' - and you can't rearrange the sentence to get it there. Second, the 'do' isn't an auxiliary anyway, it's lexical:

    All I was saying is that we're late.
    What were you saying? - :cross:All I was is that we're late.
    All I have done is loosen one screw.
    What have you done? - :cross:All I have is loosen one screw.
    All I might suggest is we stick together.
    What do you suggest? - :cross:All I might is we stick together.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    But, first, the infinitive clause isn't the complement of 'do' - and you can't rearrange the sentence to get it there. Second, the 'do' isn't an auxiliary anyway, it's lexical:
    I agree, etb, but I do think there seem to be patterns in these types of sentences depending on what sort of infinitive usually follows the verb concerned.

    "Do" is followed by the bare infinitive.
    "Want" is followed by the to-infinitive.
    All I did was wash the little girl's ears.
    All I wanted was to see him again.
     
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    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    This is a matter of mental remoteness. The verbs of behavior don't have any mental remoteness. So, they take bare-infinitive, eg: What I did this morning was prepare breakfast for her.

    The verbs of thought usually have mental remoteness, you can not actually do what you are plannning. So, they take to-infinitive, eg: What I planned to do was to go hiking with her.
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I take your point, entangledbank (post #5). Perhaps I should rephrase like this, where the modal auxiliary is ‘carried over’ (as it were) in the shorter sentence:

    I did wash the little girl's ears—but that’s all.
    All I did was wash the little girl's ears.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    A near-counterexample to my own claim is provided by this (switching from all-cleft to wh-cleft): 'What we must do is wash her ears.' Here, manifestly, there's a more basic form 'We must wash her ears' that we can relate it to. And I can't say 'to' in the cleft form.

    However, 'want (to)' for me probably only allows one 'to' in total:

    What I want to do is wash her ears.
    ?:cross:What I want to do is to wash her ears.
    :cross:What I want is wash her ears.
    What I want is to wash her ears.

    So actually I'm rather confused now about where the optional 'to' comes from.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    So actually I'm rather confused now about where the optional 'to' comes from.
    You, confused? I don't believe it!

    I think I probably agree with you that want (to) only allows one 'to' in total - but I don't think your examples demonstrate that.
    What I want is to wash her ears. (want is followed by to-infinitive)
    What I want to do is wash her ears.(do is followed by bare infinitive)

    The idea that want (to) only allows one 'to' in total is better exemplified in:
    I want to swim and sunbathe (we wouldn't usually repeat the 'to')
    All I wanted was to swim and sunbathe (we wouldn't usually repeat the 'to')
    What I wanted was to swim and sunbathe (we wouldn't usually repeat the 'to')
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I take your point, entangledbank (post #5). Perhaps I should rephrase like this, where the modal auxiliary is ‘carried over’ (as it were) in the shorter sentence:

    I did wash the little girl's ears—but that’s all.
    All I did was wash the little girl's ears.
    Nice explanation, johndot:thumbsup:
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    No, no, doesn't work. I've already demonstrated that the 'do' isn't an auxiliary. It's not followed by any verb. If anything it's a pro-form for the verb in the other branch of the cleft:

    What I wanted to do was (?to) wash her. (do = wash; not *do wash)

    And with your coordinations, I certainly can repeat the 'to'. Of course, mostly you don't - it's unnecessary, so leave it out - but grammatically there's nothing substandard about 'I want to swim and to sunbathe'. It just requires a slower or fruitier intonation. Being confused is a non-optimal situation: I'm going to have to try to work this out.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    No, no, doesn't work. I've already demonstrated that the 'do' isn't an auxiliary. It's not followed by any verb. If anything it's a pro-form for the verb in the other branch of the cleft:

    What I wanted to do was (?to) wash her. (do = wash; not *do wash)

    And with your coordinations, I certainly can repeat the 'to'. Of course, mostly you don't - it's unnecessary, so leave it out - but grammatically there's nothing substandard about 'I want to swim and to sunbathe'. It just requires a slower intonation.
    Sure. I was trying to be nice, etb, and find a rationale for your idea that want (to) only allows one 'to' in total:p
     

    jooney

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thank you Cagey. So what's the answer to my question? The ones with the bare infinitive(version A) are only correct?

    A: What she did was call the police
    B: What she did was to call the police.

    A: What I did was protect my child.
    B: What I did was to protect my child.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    The ones with the bare infinitive are correct.

    I think the ones with the 'to-infinitive' are also grammatically correct. I am not certain that everyone would agree. However, the 'to' is not necessary, so I would leave it out for stylistic reasons.
     

    effeundici

    Senior Member
    Italian - Tuscany
    A: What I did was protect my child ==> This sentence says that he protected his child
    B: What I did was to protect my child. ==> This sentence says that he did something in order to protect his child

    Is what above reasonable?

    P.S. The form to+bare infinitive can be tricky sometimes, don't you think? For example I remember the sentence I love to be loved, very ambiguous. Other languages use clearer forms which don't convey any ambiguity
     
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    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    [A: What I did was protect my child ==> This sentence says that he protected his child
    B: What I did was to protect my child. ==> This sentence says that he did something in order to protect his child

    Is what above reasonable?/effeundici]

    I completely agree with that!
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I take your point, entangledbank (post #5). Perhaps I should rephrase like this, where the modal auxiliary is ‘carried over’ (as it were) in the shorter sentence:

    I did wash the little girl's ears—but that’s all.
    All I did was wash the little girl's ears.
    Actually, I think that would be:

    All I did do was (to )wash the little girl's ears.

    I agree with ETB. This do is not the auxiliary do, which cannot have another do, or a modal in front:

    All I could do was (to) wash the little girl's ears.
    (Not "I could do only wash the little girl's ears", but "I could only wash the little girl's ears")

    If the do has -ing attached, the other verb has to have an -ing too:

    All I was doing was wash the little girl's ears. :cross:
    All I was doing was washing the little girl's ears. :tick:
    I was doing only washing the little girl's ears. :cross:
    I was only washing the little girl's ears. :tick:

    It is still not the auxiliary do, which is incompatible with a "continuous" tense.
     
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