Gerunds and Infinitives1. A gerund is a noun made from a verb by adding "-ing." The gerund form of the verb "read" is "reading." You can use a gerund as the subject, the complement, or the object of a sentence.
• Reading helps you learn English. subject of sentence
• Her favorite hobby is reading. complement of sentence
• I enjoy reading. object of sentence
Gerunds can be made negative by adding "not."
• He enjoys not working.
• The best thing for your health is not smoking.
2. Infinitives are the "to" form of the verb. The infinitive form of "learn" is "to learn." You can also use an infinitive as the subject, the complement, or the object of a sentence.
• To learn is important. subject of sentence
• The most important thing is to learn. complement of sentence
• He wants to learn. object of sentence
Infinitives can be made negative by adding "not."
• I decided not to go.
• The most important thing is not to give up.
3. Both gerunds and infinitives can be used as the subject or the complement of a sentence. However, as subjects or complements, gerunds usually sound more like normal, spoken English, whereas infinitives sound more abstract. In the following sentences, gerunds sound more natural and would be more common in everyday English. Infinitives emphasize the possibility or potential for something and sound more philosophical. If this sounds confusing, just remember that 90% of the time, you will use a gerund as the subject or complement of a sentence.
• Learning is important. normal subject
• To learn is important. abstract subject - less common
• The most important thing is learning. normal complement
• The most important thing is to learn. abstract complement - less common
4. As the object of a sentence, it is more difficult to choose between a gerund or an infinitive. In such situations, gerunds and infinitives are not normally interchangeable. Usually, the main verb in the sentence determines whether you use a gerund or an infinitive.
• He enjoys swimming. "Enjoy" requires a gerund.
• He wants to swim. "Want" requires an infinitive.
5. Some verbs are followed by gerunds as objects. List of Verbs Followed by Gerunds
• She suggested going to a movie.
• Mary keeps talking about her problems.
6. Some verbs are followed by infinitives. List of Verbs Followed by Infinitives
• She wants to go to a movie.
• Mary needs to talk about her problems.
7. Gerunds can often be modified with possessive forms such as his, her, its, your, their, our, John's, Mary's, the machine's, and so on. This makes it clearer who or what is performing the action.
• I enjoyed their singing. They were singing.
• She understood his saying no to the offer. He said no.
• Sam resented Debbie's coming late to the dinner. Debbie came late to the dinner.
• We discussed the machine's being broken. The machine is broken.
8. Some verbs are followed by a noun plus an infinitive. In some situations, the noun is required. In other situations, the noun is optional. List of Verbs Followed by a Noun + an Infinitive
• The police ordered the man to stop. noun is required
• She asked to leave. noun is optional
• She asked him to leave. noun is optional
9. Some verbs are usually followed by a gerund, BUT they can also be followed by a noun plus infinitive. Using a noun plus infinitive will usually change who is performing the action. List of Verbs followed by a Gerund OR a Noun + Infinitive
• I advised taking the train. in general
• I advised him to take the train. He will take the train.
10. There are many "go + gerund" expressions used for adventure sports and individual recreational activities. List of Go + Gerund Combinations
• I go swimming every weekend.
• Would you ever go skydiving?
11. Gerunds are used after prepositions. Most commonly, these are "verb + preposition" combinations. For reference, see the Verb + Preposition Dictionary and the Phrasal Verb Dictionary. You don't have to memorize these resources, you just need to remember that gerunds are used after prepositions!
• They admitted to committing the crime.
• Leslie made up for forgetting my birthday.
• He is thinking about studying abroad.
12. Remember that there are many "adjective + preposition" combinations and "noun + preposition" combinations in English as well. These are also followed by gerunds. List of Adjective + Preposition Combinations Followed by Gerunds and List of Noun + Preposition Combinations Followed by Gerunds. Once again, you don't have to memorize these resources, you just need to remember that gerunds are used after prepositions!
• Sandy is scared of flying. adjective + preposition
• Nick is anxious about taking the examination. adjective + preposition
• His interest in becoming a professional snowboarder was well known. noun + preposition
• Thomas' story about seeing a grizzly bear was really exciting. noun + preposition
13. Some verbs can be followed by a gerund or an infinitive, but with a difference in meaning. List of Verbs Followed by a Gerund or Infinitive (Different Meaning)
• Nancy remembered getting married. Nancy has a memory of getting married.
• Fred remembered to bring sunblock to the beach. Fred remembered that he needed to bring sunblock.
14. Some verbs can be followed by a gerund or an infinitive with little difference in meaning. List of Verbs Followed by a Gerund or Infinitive (Similar Meaning)
• She likes swimming.
• She likes to swim.
Although the difference in meaning is small with these particular verbs, and gerunds and infinitives can often be used interchangeably, there is still a meaning difference. Using a gerund suggests that you are referring to real activities or experiences. Using an infinitive suggests that you are talking about potential or possible activities or experiences. Because of this small difference in meaning, gerunds and infinitives cannot always be used interchangeably, such as in the examples below.
• The British reporter likes living in New York. He lives in New York and he likes what he experiences there.
• The British reporter likes to live in New York whenever he works in the United States. He likes the option or possibility of living in New York when he works in the United States.
• I like speaking French because it's such a beautiful language. I like the experience of speaking French, and the way it makes me feel when I speak the language.
• I like to speak French when I'm in France. I prefer the option of speaking French when I am in France.
15. There are many "be + adjective" combinations that are commonly followed by infinitives. List of Be + Adjective Combinations Followed by Infinitives
• They were anxious to begin.
• She was delighted to receive such good feedback.
• He is lucky to have such good friends.
16. There are also many nouns that are commonly followed by infinitives. List of Nouns Followed by Infinitives
• It was a good decision to move to San Francisco.
• His wish to become an actor was well known.
• Laura's desire to improve impressed me.
17. Sometimes infinitives are used to express the idea of "in order to do something."
• He bought the English dictionary to look up difficult words. in order to look up
• Janine sold her car to get the money that she needed. in order to get
• Juan uses Englishpage.com to learn English. in order to learn
This idea of "in order to do something" is found in many English patterns.
too + adjective/adverb + infinitive
• The box is too heavy to carry.
• The television is too expensive to buy.
• Fiona ran too slowly to win the race.
• We arrived too late to see the beginning of the movie.
adjective/adverb + enough + infinitive
• She is tall enough to reach the book on the shelf.
• Brian was smart enough to enter college at the age of 12.
• Linda runs quickly enough to win the race.
enough + noun(s) + infinitive
• He has enough money to buy his own car.
• Cheryl owns enough books to start her own library!
• Diane needs enough time to finish writing her book.
18. Certain expressions are followed by "ING" forms. List of Expressions followed by Verb+ing Forms
• He had fun fishing.
• They had difficulty finding a parking place.
• She spent her time practicing the piano.
19. Verbs which indicate location can often be followed by "ING" forms. This pattern is VERB OF LOCATION + LOCATION + VERB+ING. List of Verbs of Location
• Sarah stood at the corner waiting for Tom.
• Melissa lay in bed thinking about her future.
• Don clung to the side of the cliff looking down.
20. In addition to simple gerund and infinitive forms, there are progressive gerund and infinitive forms, passive gerund and infinitive forms and perfect gerund and infinitive forms as well as combinations of these forms. Progressive forms are used to emphasize that an action is taking place now. Passive forms are used to emphasize that the subject of the sentence is being acted upon. Perfect gerund and infinitive forms are used to emphasize completion in both the past and the future. Study the examples below to help understand these concepts. To learn more about progressiveness, the passive voice and the perfect aspect, complete the Englishpage.com Verb Tense Tutorial.