Published: 08th April 2018
How and where to use it: The difference between the gerund and the infinitive words in English
A gerund is a verb in its ing form that functions as a noun that names an activity rather than a person or thing and an infinitive is a verb form that acts as other parts of speech
A teacher of English from Bhubaneswar wants to know whether there is a difference in meaning between the sentences i) My neighbour likes playing in the evening, and ii) My neighbour likes to play in the evening.
A good query. In the first sentence, the verb ‘like’ is followed by a gerund (‘-ing’ form of the verb ‘play’) and in the second sentence, the verb is followed by an infinitive (‘to’ form of the verb ‘play’).
Yes, there is a slight difference in meaning. The first sentence implies that the neighbour enjoys playing in the evening, and, probably, he has the habit of doing so every evening whereas the second sentence suggests that the neighbour intends or wants to play in the evening. The general difference between the gerund and the infinitive in the sentences below is that the gerund is often general and the infinitive is often specific:
i) I like reading your articles.
I like to read your posts on Facebook.
ii) I like reading books.
I like to read crime novels.
There are certain verbs that change meaning when followed by the gerund or the infinitive. Consider the following example:
i) John stopped meeting Mary because she gossips.
ii) Robert stopped to meet Daisy.
The first sentence implies that John no longer enjoys meeting Mary for a certain reason. The second sentence implies that Robert was going somewhere and when he saw Daisy he stopped walking and met Daisy. Here is one more example:
i) I forgot to pay the rent. (I didn’t pay the rent because I forgot to do so.)
ii) I forgot paying the rent to the house owner. (I don’t have the memory of paying him the rent before.)
Let us discuss the difference between the gerund and the infinitive
Here is a very simple definition. A gerund (also called the ‘-ing’ form) does the function of a noun which is made from a verb by adding ‘–ing’ to the end of the verb. The infinitive (also called the ‘to’ form) is the base form of a verb with ‘to’. Look at the examples below:
i) John enjoyed watching the movie.
ii) Mary forgot to send me a reply to my email.
In the sentences above, ‘watching’ is a gerund made from the verb ‘watch’ by adding ‘-ing’ and ‘to send’ is an infinitive.
Learners find it really difficult to understand why certain verbs are followed by the gerund, some are followed by the infinitive and some are followed either by the gerund or the infinitive. A common mistake committed by learners is using the gerund in place of the infinitive or vice versa after certain verbs. The following are typical errors. Correct forms are given within brackets.
i) Sheela avoided to meet her class teacher. (avoided meeting)
ii) I don’t know how she managed talking to him. (managed to talk)
In the sentences above, the verb ‘avoid’ should be followed by a gerund and the verb ‘manage’ should be followed by an infinitive. Why? There is no specific rule that explains why some verbs are followed by the gerund and other verbs are followed by the infinitive. Only adequate exposure to the language and considerable amounts of practice can help learners understand the nuances and use the gerund and the infinitive form correctly.
Here is a list of some of the verbs that are normally followed by the gerund form: acknowledge, admit, adore, anticipate, appreciate, avoid, celebrate, confess, contemplate, delay, deny, describe, detest, discuss, dislike, dread, endure, enjoy, fancy, finish, imagine, involve, keep, justify, mention, mind, miss, omit, postpone, practise, quit, recall, recommend, report, resent, resume, risk, suggest, tolerate, understand.
-The actor quit smoking.
-We all detest attending the seminar.
- Don’t recall having met this gentleman.
Here is a list of some of the verbs that are normally followed by the infinitive form: afford, agree, aim, appear, arrange, bother, claim, consent, decide, demand, determine, fail, guarantee, happen, hasten, hesitate, learn, long, manage, offer, prepare, pretend, refuse, resolve, seek, strive, tend, threaten, trouble, vow.
- She refused to pay the penalty.
-He threatened to sue his employer.
There are certain verbs that can be followed either by the gerund or the infinitive. This will be discussed in a future column.
( Albert P Rayan is an ELT resource person and a Professor of English )