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'Have No Choice but Do Something' or 'Have No Choice but to Do Something'? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 30 November 2023)


What Should We Use after Have No Choice but? A To-Infinitive or a Bare-Infinitive?

Do not use a bare infinitive (i.e., an infinitive without to) after have no choice but. Instead, use the pattern have no choice but to do something:

✅ We badly needed money, so we had no choice but to sell all our belongings. (= Selling all our belongings was our only option.)
❌ We badly needed money, so we had no choice but sell all our belongings.

The soldiers have no choice but to obey their commander. (= They must obey their commander.)
The soldiers have no choice but obey their commander.

Chris had no choice but to declare himself bankrupt. (= He had to declare bankruptcy.)
Chris had no choice but declare himself bankrupt.

Many learners mistakenly use a bare infinitive after have no choice but. This may be due to confusion with the similar phrase can do nothing but do something, which includes a bare infinitive after but:

When John heard the terrible news, he could do nothing but cry uncontrollably. 

After working all day in the hot sun, I was so exhausted that I could do nothing but sleep.

As a busy parent, Anna could do nothing but juggle work, household chores, and taking care of her children every day.

Examples from the Media

According to research by the Ontario Caregiver Organization (OCO), two-thirds of caregivers admitted they had no choice but to assume their role. —Toronto Star (2023)

In protecting the comfort and convenience of the more privileged users of Martin Place, we must remember that large numbers of people—433 in the City of Sydney's February sleeping rough count—have no choice but to live their lives in public. The Sydney Morning Herald (2017)

Liz Truss has set the scene for a furious Brexit spat with Europe, telling Brussels the UK will have "no choice but to act" over the Northern Ireland protocol unless the EU backs down. —The Independent (2022)

Meanwhile, we move from one unresolved conflict to the next, finding ourselves increasingly isolated and condemned. Yet we know we have no choice but to fight this war we tried to avert. The New York Times (2009)

For all the incredible things professional athletes are capable of, every so often they'll produce a moment of madness. In those moments, fans can do nothing but hang their heads in disbelief. Otago Daily Times (2020)

He could do nothing but lie still as the bull skewered its horns into his body. —The Telegraph (2008)

Real-World Examples of Misuse

(Image Source: Learning through Practice—Grammar and Usage for Senior Secondary Students: Multiple Choice Questions)

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