Unit 4: English You Need
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Verb patterns: gerunds and infinitives
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
stop, regret, remember, forget, go on, try
When 'stop' is followed by the gerund, the verb in the gerund stops.
- I've stopped buying coffee – it's too expensive.
- I've stopped smoking - it's bad for my health.
When 'stop' is followed by the infinitive, we stop something else in order to do the verb in the infinitive.
- I stopped to buy a coffee on the way into work this morning. (I stopped walking in order to buy a coffee.)
- I stopped to have a cigarette (I stopped working in order to have a cigarette.)
When 'regret' is followed by the gerund you feel sorry about something you did – or didn't do - in the past.
- I regret telling you I was going to enter that singing competition!
- You'll regret not finishing university.
When 'regret' is followed by the infinitive, you regret something you are about to say. Often used in formal, written English with verbs 'tell', 'say' and 'inform'.
- We regret to inform you that your application has not been successful.
When 'go on' is followed by the gerund, the activity in the gerund continues.
- She went on talking about verbs for hours - she didn't stop! (She continued talking.)
- I can't go on living in this tiny house.
When 'go on' is followed by the infinitive, one action finishes and another and another action starts. This is often the next stage in a process.
- After talking about verbs she went on to tell a joke. (She changed activity.)
- After finishing his novel, he went on to direct a couple of plays.
When 'remember' or 'forget' are followed by the gerund it means you forget or remember something you have done.
- I still remember being nervous on my first day of school.
- I'll never forget seeing his face
When 'remember' or 'forget' is followed by the infinitive, there is something you need to do and you remember or forget to do it.
- I forgot to bring my lunch today.
- Remember to call your mother tonight!