The Analysis of Misuse Between To As A Preposition And To As An Infinitive Particle On Students’ Writing[1]

Oleh : Yusrizal, S.Pd


This study investigated errors made by sixth semester English Department of Universitas Bengkulu on writing in using to as a preposition or to as an infinitive particle, with a view to identify the types and the possible causes of errors. The data of this study were obtained from two groups of students dividing from their students’ number (NPM) into odd and even groups. Each of groups consisted of twelve students that had joined structure I – IV courses. The data were initially gathered from translation test. The finding of this study suggested that failure to distinguish between to as a preposition and to as an infinitive particle was the most common error committed by the subjects, followed by direct translation, Ignorance, over learning and Interferences from other items in English.


Penelitian ini meneliti tentang kesalahan yang dibuat oleh mahasiswa semester enam diprogram studi Bahasa Inggris Universitas Bengkulu pada penulisan yang menggunakan to sebagai kata depan atau sebagai pembentuk infinitif, dengan gambaran yang menemukan jenis kesalahan dan kemungkinan penyebab kesalahan tersebut. Data penelitian ini dikumpulkan dari dua kelompok mahasiswa yang dibagi berdasarkan Nomor pokok mahasiswa (NPM) Kedalam struktur ganjil dan genap. Setiap kelompok terdiri dari dua belas mahasiswa yang telah atau sedang mengambil mata kuliah Structure I sampai dengan IV. Data dikumpulkan dengan menggunakan test terjemahan. Hasil temuan yang didapat dalam penelitian ini, bahwa gagal membedakan antara to sebagai kata depan dan to sebagai pembentuk infinitif merupakan jenis kesalahan yang utama dibuat oleh subjek, diikuti oleh Ignoransi, salah pembelajaran, dan pengaruh bagian lain dalam Bahasa Inggris.


English Department is one of the departments in Faculty of Teacher Training and Education of Universitas Bengkulu trains the students to be English Teachers or lectures. They are provided with knowledge and skills of English. However, as one of the foreign learners, English Department students still may have found many problems in their study. It is a common statement that English is difficult to study by Indonesian students. Stanfield (1986) argues that there are many problem concerned likely to be encountered by Indonesian and Malay learners with a pronunciation and the structure of English (1986: 1-2). Also Hubbard (1991: 132) illustrates that learning a foreign language is of course, different from learning one’s mother tongue.

Lado predicts that the students developed their own strategies for learning English items based on assumption that individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings and distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture (Lado: 1957; 1-2). In such a way as to, when learning forms and meaning, there is much stronger evidence that the students are adopting rules without any explanation of the rules. The rule that is applied would often be incomplete or slightly different from the actual rules of the target language, and this will lead to errors.

One example of errors made by learner which was probably caused by L1 or L2 interferences or even other causes, is misuse between preposition to as a preposition and to as an infinitive particle, since English Department Universitas Bengkulu students are the foreign learner and it is \due to the fact that the great dissimilarity of both language times of structure and grammatical elements. This is the reason why this study will be focused on misuse between to as a preposition and to as an infinitive particle.

The objective of the this study is to find out the dominant type of errors that students obviously have and clarify the specific area of difficulty of using to whether it is a preposition or as an infinitive particle.


Allen (174: 190) argues that if preposition is followed by a verb, usually the verb must be in a form of a gerund, except to. After to we sometime find the infinitive, as if the to were the infinitive particle. The most usually expressions where we find this confusion is used in the following examples on account of are similar to infinitive to.

They finally agreed to pay half the money in advance

We’re not accustomed to stay up so late

He had a tendency to drink tea at all hours

There was little incentive to work

In these sentences the to is not strictly part of the infinitive; a gerund can be used instead. Apart from the four expressions above, to is regularly followed by the gerund (noun). They are detailed observed in the following examples;

They finally agreed to paying half the money in advance

We are not accustomed to staying up so late

He had a tendency to drinking tea at all hours

There was little incentive to working harder

Based on their both function and forms, they are briefly constructed in the distinction preposition to and infinitive to below.

  1. Position

Preposition to is usually followed by noun or pronoun. And if it is joined with a certain noun forming prepositional phrase, it is still followed by noun or pronoun. On the other hand, infinitive to is usually followed by verbs. Indeed, Wren (1979: 91) adds usually the infinitive is used with the word to.

  1. Function

As it’s mentioned above that to is marking on infinitive joining with verb. It has many functions in structural role. It can be not only a noun, an adjective, and adverb but also it qualify sentence (Wren, 1979: 92). In contrast to, preposition to is used in speaking things in motion, or it is used of place. This problem is showed in these following examples;

He ran to the post and back

She is going to madras tomorrow

She is going the station

Types of Errors

In general, Bolitho and Tomlinso ( 1985 ) had classified the types of error into several categories. The writer, herewith, enrolled only five types of error of misuse between to as an infinitive particle. They are Failure to distinguish, ignorance, direct translation, over learning and interferences from other items in English.

Those type of error were merely discussed around the appropriate usage of to whether it as a preposition (i.e to the hospital, to school, to the market, etc. ) or as an infinitive particle ( i.e. to do, to have, to love, etc. )

  1. Failure to distinguish

This is an error that one fails to differ to which is considered to be Corrected depend on the situation in which they are being used. It seems that this error is logical because of general use.

Wrong we are not accustomed to stay up so late

Right we are not accustomed to staying up so late

  1. Ignorance

This error will let one have a complete inability to manage an appropriate from of verbs after to.

  1. Direct translation

One, in this error, did not fell up to producing the correct forms of English by comparing it to his her own language forms and meanings.

Wrong I want ask to you ( Saya ingin bertanya pada anda )

Right I want to ask you

  1. Over learning

This error is such an unawareness of necessary to use a structure or from over again before it can be considered to have been learned. In English, There is usually a modifier-modified form, on the other hand, in Bahasa Indonesia usually consider a modified-modifier forms. Instead of the specific cases, for instance, gerundial and infinitive phases sometimes consider a modified-modifier form.

Wrong Gerry looked forward to house selling up

Right Gerry looked forward to selling up his house

  1. Interferences from other items in English

This error is entirely distributed by other items in English that seem to have been an error of handwriting, for instance, too instead of using to


This research used a descriptive analysis, which was not statistically analysed, because this research merely described the data on the pre-intermediate standards and the object studied.

According to Best and Khan (1989: 222), Descriptive Statistical analysis limits generalization to the particular group of individuals observe. He also adds that much simple action research involves descriptive analysis and provides valuable information about the nature of a particular group of individual.

Based on that statement above, the data will describe the situation or events as being observed, on a short study.


This research included the sixth semester English Department students that had taken Structure I-IV. It was assumed that they had been applying the rules to distinguish to as a preposition or an infinitive particle. The students had already been divided into two classes, based on their registration number for 40 students of each class. To obtain the most reliable data and valid, the subjects were taken by random sampling 12 subjects (30%) of each class for this research.

To collect data, the writer here used a translation test, to see the appearing errors made by the subject. It was conducted by using guided translation since it was predicted that translating Indonesian into English was more represented subject’s writing instead of using structure test only. The first test, in 45 minutes, was in a form of a short paragraph contained preposition to and infinitive to, then the second test was held a week after, that the subject were asked to check their own works for 45 minutes, then they went on to rewriting/retranslating the paragraph. The final result used as the data to discuss in this investigation.

Data Analysis

After conducting the test to the students, the data then were analysed in detail by using the descriptive method based on theories.

  1. The errors obtained from the test were classified into several categories of types of errors by Balitho and Tomlinso (1985). Each category informed the percentage of the errors when they occurred.
  2. The numbers of each error were multiplied with the number of students. Percentages of error were shown in tabulation of data, which had appeared in one category. The following formula conducted as:


P = —————- X 100%


P = Percentage

F = The number of mistakes

N = The number of students

  1. In analysing the errors in the tabulation of data the writer had utilized some abbreviations for the sake of brevity and effectiveness. In identifying the types of errors the writer had used Roman numbers, in order to see which the types of errors belong to.

The abbreviations used in the tabulation of data are as follows;

C Ans = Correct answers

In Ans = incorrect answers

f = Frequency

P = Percentage


The findings of this study and the discussion as well, were presented in the following chart and tables below:








P tot


Failure to distinguish
















Direct Translation








Over learning








Interferences from other items in English














f 1 = Frequency of error in using to as a preposition

f 2 = Frequency of error in using to as an infinitive

P1 = Percentage of f1

P2 = Percentage of f2

The interesting finding from this table that item failure to distinguish were the most common items invalid produced by the subjects. This figure, that from all subjects about 41% were included in this group, indicates the similar content to previous discussion about the most common error of using to whether it is as a preposition or as an infinitive particle.

Table. 2 Frequency of translation items towards number of students


Correct Answer

Incorrect Answer




Stop working


Hope to get


Look forward to checking up

Look forward to check up




Looking forward to spending

Looking forward to spend




Regret to tell

Regret to telling




Be used to working

Be used to work




Have to pay

Have to pay


Forget to registrate

Forget to registration




Remember to listen

Remember to listening




Employ someone to manage

Employ someone to manage


Object to spending

Object to spent




Feel up to continuing

Feel up to continue



From this finding above, there some views that those should be discussed in different area of investigation. On previous investigation, the percentage of error will be focused on students’ number. Therefore it should be better discussed in detail.

Item (3) was the most error that students suggested to be in problems in using to, instead of using it as an infinitive particle. This figure closer to what Stanfield (1986:19) has discussed in his book;

Since Bahasa Indonesia (BI) posses no real equivalent of either the infinitive or the gerund, both these forms will present some difficulties. The difficulty however, will be especially great when infinitive and gerunds are used in somewhat similar constructions and it is a matter of choosing the correct one.

Subjects tent to choose infinitive instead of using gerunds after a given verbs such as look forward to, object to, to be used to, feel up to, since their both construction seemed to be similar.

Chart 1. Frequency of errors committed by odd numbers of students

The result from this translation in odd numbers student subject, as might be expected, that the subjects were not exactly to produce an over learning error. While direct translation and interference from other items in English had been committed 8% by the subjects. Ignorance, then, had been 17% enrolled by the subjects, was better than the first type of errors, Failure to distinguish that had been committed 67% by the subjects. However, this figure indicates that odd numbers students subject still encountered considerable difficulties to use to as a preposition or as an infinitive particle on writing.

Chart 2. Frequency of errors committed by even number of students

Basically, the result of this test was not different from odd number. But, there was no error of interferences from other items in English produced by the subjects. It was about 8% each of both error of ignorance and direct translation, but over learning had been committed 17% by the subjects was better than Failure to distinguish whish had been committed 67% from the even number subjects.

Nevertheless, this figure, the higher percentage of failure to distinguish indicates that this type was still dominant type of error produced by the subjects of investigation, to see the evidence that this failure was also the most common error made by the even number students.

Chart 3. Frequency of error committed by subjects

In general, from all the subjects, the result was obtained that inference from other items in English had played the smallest percentage (4%), while ignorance and over learning were committed by 2 subjects for each (8%), better than direct translation in which 13% of subjects had committed this type of error. Nevertheless, the worst among them was still failure to distinguish, committed by 67% from all subjects.

Ironically, the sixth semester English Department students had already taken Structure I – IV and already discussed more about prepositions, infinitives, and gerunds. However, error of failure to distinguish was merely distributed from their previous learning process but it seemed to be happened a major causes of error.


This study, investigating the error committed by the sixth semester students of English Department of Universitas Bengkulu, found error of failure to distinguish is the most common type of error that the students obviously have and overgeneralization seemed to be a major cause of error. Those figures were to be proved by the evidences by gathering from questionnaire, Translation test, and Interview. It seemed not to be happened that the error of failure to distinguish between to as a preposition and as an infinitive particle, if only the students detail discuss it and be aware doing such an error; in regard to the fact that they are going to be an English teacher.


To overcome those problems appeared in Students writing of using to either as preposition or as an infinitive particle, therefore the writer proposes two suggestions. The first, students have to study or discuss how to distinguish between to as a preposition or as an infinitive particle and haw to use them appropriately in writing. Furthermore, secondly, another important thing taken from this study that the writer suggests for the students and teachers to have a complete guidance in learning process.


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[1] Presented in English Day Seminar at UPT Bahasa Inggris Universitas Bengkulu, 24 October 2004

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