To Infinitives - And Beyond!

Why do we try to stop smoking, but try eating something when we've been ill?​

Why do I advise you to go, but recommend staying?

There are many occasions in English when we have to decide whether to use an infinitive or an '-ing' word.  It's not always obvious!

 

Sometimes it's important. Sometimes it isn't. Getting it wrong will rarely cause problems being understood, but it matters if you're being graded for IELTS or similar certificates.

Here are some rules to help you decide which is the right choice - and a reminder of what infinitives and '-ing' words are!

Infinitives

Infinitives are the 'base' forms of verbs. 

They're the same as the 'I' present simple form of the verb.  

Infinitive forms are words like eat, drink, think, go, look

It's usual to show the infinitive as a 'to' word:

'to eat', 'to drink', 'to think', 'to go', 'to look'

-ing Words (or Gerunds)

When an '-ing' word is acting like a noun, it's called a gerund:

He likes singing.

Running is good for you.

Fishing is a good way to relax.

Here the -ing words act as nouns - and could be replaced by a noun.

After These Verbs

agree, decide, deserve, expect, hope, learn, need, offer, plan, promise, seem, wait, want

...we use the infinitive form:

"I hope to find a new job soon."

“I decided to leave the party early, as I didn’t like anyone there.”
    “I hadn’t planned to see her again, but I missed her so much I had to.”
    “We agreed to abandon the project, as it was too expensive.”

After These Verbs

admit, advise, avoid, consider, deny, involve, mention, recommend, risk, suggest

...we use the -ing form:

"I hope to find a new job soon."

“I decided to leave the party early, as I didn’t like anyone there.”
    “I hadn’t planned to see her again, but I missed her so much I had to.”
    “We agreed to abandon the project, as it was too expensive.”

After These Verbs

forget, go on, regret, remember, stop​

...we have a choice!

After verbs like these, we use the infinitive to refer forward in time,

and the gerund to refer to the present or past:

“I stopped smoking.” (In the past. I used to smoke, then I stopped)

“I remember going to see my grandmother when I was a child.” (In the past)

But:

“Remember to collect your shopping.” (In the future - for instance, when you leave work)

 

“I stopped to stretch my legs.”

(I stopped walking and then stretched out my legs. The stretching was in the future, after the stopping)

After the verb 'to try'

With 'to try', we can use the infinitive to suggest difficulty or effort.

We use the gerund to make a suggestion:

 

“They tried to persuade their daughter not to smoke.”  (Difficult, involves effort)

"I try to keep in touch with my friends, but they have left town." (Difficult/effort)


“If you can’t sleep, try drinking warm milk before bed.” (A suggestion)

"When my computer crashed, I tried restarting it."

After 'to love', 'to like', 'to hate'

Both infinitive and gerund are acceptable after these verbs.

British English usually uses the -ing form, whereas American English uses either:

 

“I love dancing!”  (British and American)

“I love to dance!” (American)

 

In British English, we can use the infinitive form to talk about things that only happen occasionally:

 

“I like to get up early when I’m travelling.”

“I love to find myself alone in the middle of a forest.”

Facts and Hypotheticals

Sometimes we use the infinitive to stress something is suggested or hypothetical - more 'maybe'.

We use the -ing form to stress something which actually happens or has happened - more 'facts'.

 

“It’s unhealthy to do exercise straight after a meal.” 

"It's dangerous to swim after eating."

(Here we suggest you shouldn’t.)


“Doing exercise after a meal is unhealthy.”

"Swimming after eating is dangerous."

(Here we are making a statement of fact.)

Remember!

It's tricky to know when to use infinitives, and when to use -ing words.​

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to remember which is which - you just need to learn how they are used with different verbs, and in different ways,

 

The good news is that if you say things like "I suggest to go" (instead of "I suggest going")  you will be understood.  People will often correct you without realising it.

So I recommend trying it out - don't worry about the mistakes!

© 2020 Open Argot English Teaching | marco@openargot.com | Guadalajara, México