In Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad he ends chapter 31 with the following two sentences:

This saddens me. I will to bed.

I have never seen this grammatical form. What is the intransitive verb in “I will to bed” which supports “to”?


2 Answers 2


The verb is implied; in early English the verbs similar to "go" or "proceed" were often implied; obvious from the context. We see this when somebody says "Onward and upward, comrades."

And "I will to bed," the verb is implied by the destination, in Twain's case, also by the emotional setting ("saddened").

  • Would this be considered bad grammar due to being ambiguous? If the word “bed” were understood as a transitive verb the sentence has a different and valid meaning, and the context only loosely makes “bed” a noun. Consider, “I will to live!” “I will to exist!” “I will to devour!” Twain could be implying he wants to “get into bed with” someone or something. The contextual line is not perfectly obvious, as perhaps elsewhere in the story he had declared himself a man who handled sadness with sex. “This saddens me. I will to bed (someone)” makes sense until you deep dive the book.
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 18:28
  • @VogonPoet No, I don't think so. This is a custom, not a general rule, and Twain is not the only person to use it. When a verb is omitted but a destination is named, the assumed verb is one of "travel", e.g. go to. "To the parapets, men!" "We must to hospital", etc. Because it is a custom, the only ambiguity is in the form of travel: "To the shores, men" may require swimming, for example. "To space" may require a rocket. "To town, then," may require a vehicle. But all those special circumstances are also implied with the addition of "go", so omitting "go" is no more ambiguous then adding "go."
    – Amadeus
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 18:53
  • I’m going to agree but not for your reasons, rather that there seems to be no custom of having both a verb and indirect object being understood in the same sentence (that I am aware.) “I will to bed him.” would be logical in a political context; “I will to bed her,” (spoken by a man) would be logical in an intimate context, but the inobvious object of “bed” makes it unlikely a verb. This could change in context: “He puts in good society those in his company. I will to bed.” It sort of works, but not very clean
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 20:37
  • There are only customs in language, never rules. And there was a custom of omitting verbs of motion in certain constructions. Here's a discussion on EL&U about the same phenomenon ("we must away"): english.stackexchange.com/questions/327837/…
    – Juhasz
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 21:23
  • @Juhasz Awesome, interesting post.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 21:31

Here, the sentence is in an archaic, flowery prose. You are right--no one speaks like that today. I would say that 'will' is the verb, but there is an implied 'go' that is not in the sentence.

"This saddens me. I (subject pronoun) will (go is implied; both are verbs, will a helping verb) to bed.

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