Gerunds and Infinitives

Reading audio

17 April, 2015

Welcome to another episode of Everyday Grammar on VOA Learning English.

English learners have difficulty with gerunds and infinitives. A gerund is the –ing form of a verb that functions the same as a noun. For example, "Running is fun." In this sentence, "running" is the gerund. It acts just like a noun.

The infinitive form of a verb appears either as the basic form (with no marking) or with the word "to." For example, you can say "I might run to the store" or "I like to run." In this sentence, "to run" is the infinitive.

It is difficult for English learners to know whether to use a gerund or an infinitive after a verb.

Here's an example. Which sentence is correct?

Sentence one: I suggested going to dinner.

Sentence two: I suggested to go to dinner.

Sentence one, with the gerund, is correct. "I suggested going to dinner." Why? You can only use a gerund after the verb "suggest."

Let's take the word "like." You can say "I like" running" or "I like to run." Both sentences have the same meaning. You can use either a gerund or an infinitive after "like." Now let's try "enjoy." We can say, "I enjoy running." But we cannot say, "I enjoy to run." Why? Only a gerund can follow the verb "enjoy."

Are you confused yet? You're not alone. Gerund and infinitives confuse even very advanced English learners.

Basically, some verbs are followed by gerunds, some verbs are followed by infinitives, and some verbs can be followed by gerunds or infinitives. Native speakers do not think about the difference. But English learners have to memorize the hundreds of different verb combinations.

Here are a few tips.

Tip number one: you almost always find a gerund after a preposition. For example, "She is afraid of flying." In this sentence "of" is the preposition and "flying" is the gerund. You cannot say "She is afraid of to fly." An infinitive cannot be the object of a preposition, only a gerund can. You could say, "She is afraid to fly," but in this sentence, the preposition "of" is gone.

Tip number two: When you are talking about an activity, you usually use a gerund. For example, "I stopped smoking." You can describe many activities by using "go" before a gerund. "Let's go shopping," or "We went skiing."

Let's see how much you know. Try to complete these sentences using the verb "study." Ready? I'll read the first part of the sentence and you finish it.

I enjoy ... (studying)

I considered ... (studying)

I managed ... (to study)

I hope ... (to study)

I suggested ... (studying)

I like... ... (studying) or ... (to study)

This is only a simple introduction to a complicated grammar topic.

There is no quick and easy way to learn gerunds and infinitives. It takes years of practice and familiarity with the English language. Next time you read or listen to a VOA Learning English story, pay attention to use of gerunds and infinitives. Over time, you will begin to hear the right verb combination.

Below is a helpful reference list for using gerunds and infinitives.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.

Adam Brock wrote this story for Learning English. Dr. Jill Robbins was the editor.


Words in This Story

gerund - n. an English noun formed from a verb by adding -ing

infinitive - n. the basic form of a verb; usually used with to except with modal verbs like should and could and certain other verbs like see and hear

preposition - n. a word or group of words that is used with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, location, or time, or to introduce an object

Now it's your turn. In the comment section, write one sentence that uses a verb followed by a gerund or an infinitive. We'll respond with feedback about your usage.


Only a gerund can follow these verbs:

admit, advise, avoid, be used to, can't help, can't stand, consider, deny, discuss, dislike, end up, enjoy, feel like, finish, forget, get used to, give up, go on, have difficulty, have problems, have trouble, imagine, it's no use, it's worthwhile, keep, look forward to, mention, mind, miss, recommend, remember, quit, spend time, stop, suggest, understand, waste time, work at

Either a gerund or an infinitive can follow these verbs, and there is no change in meaning

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

Either a gerund or an infinitive can follow these verbs, but the meaning may change:

forget, remember, stop

An infinitive often follows these common verbs:

afford, agree, appear, arrange, ask, care, decide, demand, expect, fail ,forget, hope, learn, manage, mean, offer, plan, prepare, pretend, promise, refuse, remember, seem, stop, volunteer, wait, want, wish

A noun or pronoun and an infinitive follow these verbs

advise, allow, ask, cause, challenge, command, convince, expect, forbid, force, hire, instruct, invite, order, pay, permit, program, remind, teach, tell, urge, want, warn