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Concourse 2

Gerunds and infinitives


A gerund, simply put, is a verb acting as a noun.  For example, I enjoy reading (gerund: the verb read is acting as a noun) vs. I enjoy books (plural noun).


What follows the verb?

Some verbs are followed by a gerund, some by an infinitive (the base form of the verb with to before it).  Here are some examples:

I want to help to clear up He offered to clear up They expected to have a problem I hate flying I would like to go now
They chose to do it They regretted doing it We stopped them working Remind me to post the letter I'm thinking about going

Can you categorise the following verbs?  Put them all in a sentence in your head and decide whether they are followed by the infinitive (e.g., to go) or the gerund (e.g., going).  Then see if you can find a pattern.  Click when you've done that.

advise aim deny allow avoid promise instruct beg build threaten
teach enjoy resume forbid permit persuade detest promise suggest encourage
arrange begin finish miss invite ask challenge admit hope force

You can see the rule working clearly with the class of verbs which take either the gerund or the infinitive but with a change of meaning.
    He remembered to post the letter
in which the remembering comes before the posting with
    He remembered posting the letter
in which the posting comes before the remembering.  The verb forget works similarly.
    They regretted telling me
in which regretting comes after telling
    They regretted to tell me.
in which regretting comes before telling.

The verb try changes its meaning when followed by an infinitive or a gerund:
    I tried taking an aspirin
means I experimented with this as a cure, but
    I tried to take an aspirin
means I attempted to take an aspirin (and probably failed).


Breaking the 'rule'

Some verbs do not conform to the two patterns set out above.  In that sense they break a rule but it is, in any case, only a rule of thumb.
These verbs include three which should, if the rule is followed, take an infinitive but are usually followed by a gerund: claim, delay deserve.
The following verbs usually take an infinitive although the rule above would suggest they should take a gerund: avoid, consider, contemplate, defer, escape, evade, (can't) help, keep on, postpone, put off, resist, risk.

The technical term for verbs operating like this in chains is catenation (from the Latin for a chain).  There is a much fuller guide to catenation in the in-service section of the site (linked below in the list of related guides).
If you would like the PDF document concerning catenative verbs which includes considerations of to-infinitives and gerunds following verbs, click here.

flying saucer

Is it a verb, an adjective or a noun?

There is a problem in English which makes life quite difficult for learners, and, alas, a number of teachers.  It is this:
The -ing form of a verb in English signals three possible grammatical functions.
Here is what is meant:

  1. A verb acting as a noun
    This is what we have considered so far and here are some more examples:
    • She enjoys running
      in which running is the object of the verb enjoys and could be replaced, for example, by a more recognisable noun such as chocolate or her garden etc.
    • I objected to his criticising me
      in which it is less easy to replace the -ing form with a simple noun because it clearly has an object (me) so we will have to re-phrase the whole sentence as something like:
      I objected to his criticism of me
  2. A verb form which signals that something is in progress or a continuous event
    This is an example of aspect in English, usually called continuous or progressive.  The -ing form here is called the present participle but it often appears with past tenses.  A better term would be an -ing participle.  For example:
    • The professor was writing a letter when the 'phone rang
      in which the verb form (was writing) suggests that this was an an action in progress when the telephone rang and interrupted him
    • I am taking the bus to work these days
      in which it is clear that the speaker is not actually on a bus (probably) but is referring to a continuous background event which is probably, not certainly, temporary
    • I am seeing Mary tomorrow
      in which the speaker is using the same sort of tense form to talk about a current arrangement for a future event
  3. A verb acting as an adjective
    This is derived from the continuous or progressive -ing participle to describe an object or person.  For example:
    • Mary is extremely irritating
      which could be re-phrased as
      Mary irritates people habitually
    • It's a frightening film
      which means that the film frightens people
    • It's part of the aging process
      in which the adjective describes the process just as something more adjective-like, such as, mechanical could be used instead.

In this guide, we are concerned with whether we use a gerund or an infinitive after certain verbs but it is important for teachers to be clear that we are actually dealing with a gerund or some other use of the -ing form of the verb.
To check that you can do this, try a little test.


Teaching this area

When it comes to teaching, of course, it is very important that learners are alert to the patterns so we need to set the language in a context.  Here's an example of the sort of text one might use to get students to notice the forms and perhaps work out the pattern for themselves with a little help.  With a group at B1 or B2 level getting them to notice the words in italics and try to see what they have in common would be a good place to start.


I was talking with an old friend last night and we discussed missing our oldest friends from university.  We both regretted losing touch and not seeing them for so long.  We have both always enjoyed being in their company and setting the world to rights over a glass of wine.
We decided to do something about the situation and resolved to get in touch with as many as we could.  To this end, my friend promised to look on the internet to see if any of them are on Facebook and I undertook to check with the university to see if they have records we could use.  I don't expect them to give out details but they might agree to provide me with a list of names and contact details.
If we manage to get a list together we have some ideas for things to do.  First off, we want to invite everyone to meet up somewhere nice (perhaps for coffee or a drink in the evening) and then we'd like to make it some kind of regular event so that we can all stay in touch and spend hours remembering studying and socializing together.
Eventually, we want to establish our own website for the group where we can exchange ideas and so on.

Related guides
tense and aspect for more on progressive and continuous aspects of verbs
aspect for a more technical guide to aspect in the in-service section
the infinitive for a guide to how (else) English uses the infinitive, with and without to
participles for more on present participles and more
finite and non-finite verb forms for a more technical guide to this area and much else
catenative verbs for a more technical and comprehensive guide in the in-service section
student exercises if you want to see some student exercises in this area (and perhaps incorporate them into a lesson)