Monday, January 13, 2014

Gerund or infinitive?

When a verb is complemented by another verb, the second one can be:
  •  a gerund (as we saw in a previous post): I enjoy listening to classical music.
  •  a to-infinitive: He wants to stay, but I want him to go.
  •  a bare infinitive (that is, without to): Let me go
In order to know which verbs are followed by a gerund or an infinitive (with or without to) you have to learn the lists of verbs by heart. However, there is something that can be of help: most verbs are followed by the to-infinitive, so if you learn the verbs followed by the gerund and those followed by the infinitive without to (which are just a few), you can be pretty sure that the rest of the verbs will be followed by a to-infinitive.
Gerund or infinitive? That is the question!

To make matters more complicated, there is a small group of verbs that can be followed by either a gerund or an infinitive. Some of them show a change of meaning when taking one or the other, while others don't change their meanings at all. Let's see them:

Same meaning: attempt, can't bear, begin, continue, intend, propose, start. Examples: We start working at 8 in the morning. We start to work at 8 in the morning.

Love, hate and prefer are followed by the to-infinitive or the gerund without much difference in meaning. However, the infinitive is preferably used when we refer to one particular occasion. When would precedes these verbs, the to-infinitive is always used: I'd love to go, but unfortunately I can't.
Love and hate
Image by Alex Hillman

Same meaning but different use:

  • Allow, advise, forbid and permit are followed by a gerund when there is no personal object. Otherwise, they are followed by a to-infinitive: I advised seeing a doctor. I advised him to see a doctor.
Different meaning:
  • With remember and forget, the gerund refers to things that happened earlier, whereas the infinitive refers to what must be done: I remember posting the letter (that is, "I can remember that I have posted the letter") Please, remember to post the letter (that is, "you have to post the letter") 
  • Stop + gerund means "to stop the activity you are doing" or "to break a habit": She stopped eating chocolate last year. Stop + to-infinitive  means "to make a pause in order to do something else": She stopped to eat some chocolate. (meaning that she stopped what she was doing in order to do something else).
  • Regret + gerund means "to be sorry for what has happened": I regret telling her my secret. Regret + to-infinitive means "to be sorry for what is going to be said": I regret to tell you that we have offered the job to somebody else.
  • Like + gerund means "to enjoy". I like reading adventure books. Like + to-infinitive means "to have a preference for" I like to know the facts before forming an opinion, or even "want" I didn't like to say no. Please, note that the infinitive must be used after would like: I'd like to tell you that...
  • Try + gerund means "to make an experiment": I tried using the new method, but it didn't work. Try + to-infinitive means "to make an effort": He tried to pass his university entry exam.
  • Go on + gerund means "to continue with the same action": Mary went on reading the letter. Go on + to-infinitive means "to start something new". He first talked about the problem, then went on to discuss the solution".
  • See, watch and hear followed by the gerund imply that we observe part of the action, but when they are followed by the bare infinitive they suggest that the action is observed completely, from beginning to end: When I looked out of the window I saw him crossing the street. I saw him get out of the car, cross the street and go into the supermarket. Notice that in the second example we mean that the actions that are seen are complete.
I saw the Simpsons crossing the street.

Now you can try to do this exercise:

Fancy another exercise? Try this one.

Still not tired? You can practise with this gap-fill exercise. Yet more?


  1. This is really comprehensively explained and very helpful post for English grammar gerund. Thanks a lot for sharing such a nice post and keep it up. I am really looking forward to more from you.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment. I'd like to publish something soon. Cheers!


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