Learning English

Inspiring language learning since 1943

English Change language

Grammar Reference

Verb patterns: gerunds and infinitives

Meaning and use

Gerunds are the -ing form of a verb, and infinitives are the to + base form. These words can be confusing; they combine the meaning of a verb with the grammar of a noun.

  • My father asked me to phone him. I enjoy talking with my father.  

So, how is ‘to phone’ like a noun? Imagine the first sentence said: My father asked me a question. You can see how a question and to phone have the same grammatical role. Similarly, you could replace talking’ with the noun conversation.

Using gerunds and infinitives correctly with verbs can be difficult because some verbs go with only the infinitive or only the gerund, and others can go with either one.

  • I enjoy going to the movies. (enjoy + -ing form only)
  • Jason wants to visit a museum on Friday. (want + infinitive form only)
  • Tony likes eating at restaurants. Tony likes to eat at restaurants. (like + either -ing or infinitive form)

Another difficulty is that sometimes choosing the infinitive or the gerund will change the meaning of the sentence.

  • Mary stopped eating at six.
    (Mary was eating, and at six o’clock, she stopped.)
  • Mary stopped to eat at six.
    (Mary was walking home, and at six o’clock she stopped walking and went into a café to eat.)

The best way to learn which verbs take infinitives, gerunds, or both, is to notice them in context when you read, or to consult grammar references. Here are some of the most common verbs:

Followed by a gerund (-ing form)

admit, advise, consider, discuss, dislike, dread, enjoy, finish, mind, practise, recommend, suggest

Followed by an infinitive

agree, appear, choose, decide, expect, fail, hope, learn, need, refuse, seem, wait, want

Followed by either, usually with no change in meaning

begin, continue, hate, like, love, prefer, start

Followed by either, with a change in meaning

forget, regret, remember, stop, try 

Form

Gerunds and infinitives can follow verbs in the form verb + -ing form of the verb or verb + infinitive (to + base form of the verb).

Positive

  • Theresa suggested going to the park.
  • Ross decided to go home instead.

Negative

The negative form is verb + not + gerund/infinitive.

  • My grandparents have retired and enjoy not working.
  • Frank hopes not to travel over the holidays.

Question

  • What did the doctor advise taking for your cold?
  • Do you need to do your laundry this weekend?

Take note: ‘split’ infinitives

A ‘split infinitive’ has an adverb between to and the verb.

  • It is important to thoroughly study for an examination.
  • His sister seems to really want a cat.

Some people think split infinitives are ungrammatical. If you are writing formal English, it is best to avoid using them in your writing.

Take note: possessives

Remember that gerunds are types of nouns, so you can use possessive adjectives like my, your, his, her, etc.

  • Do you mind my going out for a while?
  • I like his planning our holidays for us.