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Concourse 2

Catenative verbs: gerunds and infinitives etc.


The verb catenate (which has its origins in the Latin catena, a chain) may be defined as join together in a series.
You may be familiar with the term catenation as it is used in the analysis of connected speech where it refers to how sounds are linked.  That is not the concern here but the concepts are analogous.

There is a range of verbs in English which can be followed by a non-finite form in a chain of meanings.
That non-finite may be the to-infinitive or the -ing form.  A few verbs also catenate with the bare infinitive.
Here's an example of a catenated structure:
    I agreed to try making more effort
in which the main, finite verb is agree and its complement consists of a clause with two non-finite verb forms: to try, making.
How verbs catenate and the associated grammar are a source of considerable error for learners of English for two reasons:

  1. It is not easy to predict which non-finite structures will follow a verb.
  2. Other languages do things differently and not all have anything similar to the English non-finite forms.  Even those that do will not usually have a choice of forms to pick from.

(If you are wondering, the verb is pronounced /ˈkæ.tɪ.neɪt/, the adjective is /ˈkæ.ˌtɪ.nət.ɪv/ or /kəˈti:.nə.tɪv/ (your choice) and the noun is pronounced /ˌkæ.tɪ.ˈneɪ.ʃən/.)

This area is closely connected to the concept of colligation.  Verbs which catenate in the same way such as, for example:
    She determined to work hard
    They chose to work hard
    We decided to work hard

are said to form colligates insofar as they are primed (Hoey 2003) to take on certain syntactical structures, in this case, the verbs determine, choose and decide are followed by the to-infinitive.
The whole of what follows is an effort to identify colligates: words which function syntactically in the same ways.
If you are here for a particular issue, you may find this menu helpful.  If not, simply work your way through.

What catenative verbs are not Six issues Gerund, verbal or deverbal noun? Verbs with the to-infinitive
Verbs with the -ing form Verbs followed by either form Verbs changing meaning Verbs with to plus -ing
Verbs with bare infinitives Causative verbs Verbs of perception Teaching the area

At any time, clicking on -top- will return you to this menu.


What catenative verbs are not

Unfortunately, there is a good deal of confusion concerning what qualifies as a catenative structure.  There are websites, unnamed here, the authors of which assume that any clause which contains more than one verb is an example of catenation.  That's unhelpful because it is careless, sloppy and vague and leads to poor classroom focus.

Before we consider what sorts of structures are involved, we need to make clear what are not, sensu stricto, catenative verbs.

None of the following is an example of catenative verb use for the reasons given:

Another issue is that modal auxiliary verbs, which are often followed by the bare infinitive non-finite form or even the to-infinitive are not usually considered examples of catenation.  So, for example:
    I must go now
    She should arrive soon

    I have to start somewhere
etc. are not considered here.
However, there is a grey area when we come to consider semi-modal auxiliary verbs such as dare, need and used.
When these verbs are used as full modal auxiliaries as in, for example:
    I dared not ask again
    I need not tell you
    Used he to work here?

they are not considered examples of catenation but when they are used as full lexical or main verbs in, for example:
    I didn't dare to ask
    I don't need to do that
    Did he used to work here?

they may be considered examples of catenation but will not be included here as the marginal modal auxiliary verbs are dealt with elsewhere on this site (linked below in the list of related guides at the end).

Finally, we need to consider prepositional verbs and phrasal-prepositional verbs, some of which catenate as in, for example:
    She went on talking
    I put off meeting him
    Her time was taken up with caring for her children

All these are examples of catenating multi-word verbs but, because adverb particles and prepositions are always following by the -ing form, they will not intrude on the following analysis.



Six issues

The problem facing learners (and teachers who are concerned not to confuse learners) is that there are six possibilities to consider in terms of what verb form may follow the main verb in a clause.  Here they are with examples of each and each will be considered in a section in this guide.

  1. Verbs followed by the non-finite to-infinitive.  For example:
        She hoped to help
  2. Verbs followed by the non-finite -ing form (also called a gerund).  For example:
        She avoided meeting me
  3. Verbs followed by to plus the -ing form.  For example:
        They looked forward to staying at the house
  4. Verbs followed by the bare infinitive.  For example:
        She helped make the proposal
  5. Verbs followed by either the to-infinitive or the -ing form with no change in meaning.  For example:
        They started to work
        They started working
  6. Verbs followed by either the to-infinitive or the -ing form but with a change in meaning.  For example:
        I regret to say that he can't be here
        I regret saying that he can't be here

Nearly all verbs which naturally catenate fall into one of the first two categories so they are the ones which should receive the most focus, especially at early stages of learning.
We can include the verbs in point 5. at any stage because it really doesn't matter which form the learner selects.

(One important verb is alleged to catenate with the past participle form as in:
    We got lost
    she got sacked
    Mary got investigated
but a better analysis of this construction is the use of get as a dynamic passive, so you will see no more of it here.)

The following contains some long lists.  If you want them as a PDF document, there is a link at the end.



Do we call it a gerund, a verbal noun, a deverbal noun or an -ing form?

A difficulty we shall encounter here is the function of the verb.  In some analyses, people prefer to use the term -ing form to describe the catenating verb in many of the examples below.  In others, the term gerund is freely used.  In others, a distinction is made between a verbal noun, a deverbal noun and a gerund (although the borderlines are somewhat fuzzy).

Technically, both a gerund and a verbal noun may be defined as a verb form which functions as a noun, but that is slightly misleading because there is a cline between the use of a word as a verb and its use as a noun derived from the verb so, for example:
    He is flying to Scotland tomorrow
is clearly the use of flying as a verb.
and in:
    Is flying cheaper?
the use of flying is much more like a noun because it can be modified by the adjective cheaper.  It cannot, however, be preceded by an adjective or made plural as most nouns can.  It is also rare to see it modified by a determiner so both:
    the flying
    the excellent flying
are vanishingly rare and
    *her flyings
is plain wrong.
In these examples, the -ing form is a verbal noun rather than a gerund because gerunds may be modified by adverbs and the form flying cannot be modified that way.  We cannot, for example, use:
    *cheaply flying
as a modified noun phrase.
However, in:
    The beautiful furnishings in the house
the word furnishings is clearly a noun because it is modified by the definite article and the adjective beautiful as well as being made plural in the normal way.  It is, nevertheless, also derived by adding the suffix -ing to the verb furnish.  In this case we are dealing with a noun derived from a verb which is fully noun-like in all regards so it is a deverbal noun.
Almost any verb can be used with the -ing form in some way.  The question is to see whether the word is acting more as a verb or more as a noun.  It is not always an easy choice.

So, the difference between a gerund, a verbal noun and a deverbal noun lies in the fact that gerunds retain verb-like qualities partially lost in a verbal noun and lost altogether in deverbal nouns.  Like this:

  1. Gerunds retain verbal characteristics even when they are acting as pseudo-nouns so:
    1. They may be used with possessive determiners so we allow:
          My confessing the truth solved the matter
    2. They can take direct objects so we can have, e.g.:
          John's telling her was a mistake
      where her acts as the direct object of the gerund.
    3. They are modified by adverbs just a true verbs are so we can have, e.g.:
          Driving quickly was dangerous
      in which the gerund is modified by the adverb quickly and we cannot have:
          *Quick driving was dangerous
    4. Gerunds form at best uncountable pseudo-nouns and are not pluralised so we cannot have:
          *His frequent drivings to London
    5. Gerunds are only formed by the addition of the -ing suffix.  For this reason, deciding is classifiable as a gerund but decision cannot be.  Both are, however, nouns clearly derived from the verb.
  2. Verbal nouns occupy a midway position taking on many of the characteristics of gerunds plus some more noun-like qualities.
    1. They are noun-like insofar as they can form the subject or object of a verb, just like gerunds so we get:
          Swimming is enjoyable
          I dislike waiting
    2. They may be modified by adjectives rather than adverbs as in:
          Slower driving is usually safer
    3. They do not take direct objects so we do not allow:
          *His building the house took time
    4. They are uncountable mass concepts and cannot be pluralised so we do not allow:
          *His many drivings to London
  3. Deverbal nouns act as nouns in all respects and they often carry the sense of the verb's completion, so:
    1. They cannot take a direct object because they are not verbs so we do not allow:
          *His painting the village looked awful
      and need to insert a prepositional phrase to get the same meaning as in:
          His painting of the village looked awful
    2. They are modified by adjectives, not adverbs so, e.g.:
          I did some necessary washing
      in which the -ing form may not be modified adverbially so:
          *I did some slowly washing
      is not allowed.
    3. They can form countable nouns and can, therefore, be pluralised in the normal way of nouns as in, e.g.:
          The fittings in the house were expensive
    4. Deverbal nouns may be formed in other ways from verbs and not only with the -ing suffix so we can have, e.g.:
          discovery as a noun from the verb discover
      as a noun from the verb finish with no changes (a process of simple conversion)
          carriage as a noun from the verb carry
      as a noun from the verb refuse
      and so on (for more examples of how nouns are formed from verbs, see the guide to nouns, linked below).  All the resulting nouns are fully noun-like in behaviour and carry little verbal force.

Here's a handy, cut-out-and-keep summary of noun-like verbs:


It is not always as simple as this suggests because there is a cline from purely verbal uses of a word to purely nominal uses via gerunds which have characteristics of both verbs and nouns up to verbal and deverbal nouns.  We can summarise this cline like this:

gerunds etc.

This issue will soon become apparent when we consider the difference between, for example:
    I was not permitted to smoke in the room by the hotel
    The hotel did not permit smoking in the room
In the first case, we have a catenative structure with permit followed by the infinitive with to and that is analogous to, for example:
    The hotel did not permit me to smoke in the room
In the second case, the form is analogous to:
    The hotel did not permit pets in the room
and that is evidence that we are dealing with a verb, permit, and its direct-object noun, pets.  If pets is clearly a noun then, by analogy, we should also consider smoking a noun in the same environment.  But pets is a plural and there is no plural of smoking.

Another noun-like quality of -ing forms is their ability to act as classifiers, a grammatical role usually considered the domain of nouns.  For example, just as we can have
    a pet passport
we can also have
    a flying lesson
    a smoking area
    the furnishing department
and so on.

The upshot of all this is that it is not always enough simply to state that such and such a verb is followed by the gerund or an infinitive.  We have to make a decision about whether the -ing form is really a verb or actually a verbal or deverbal noun derived from a verb acting as the subject or object of another verb.
Two more examples will help to show the difference.

  1. In:
        I hope to fly early tomorrow
    we have a case of verb catenation with the verbs hope and fly linked together.  So, therefore:
        *I hope flying early tomorrow
    is malformed and unacceptable.
    However, in:
        I hope flying will not be too expensive
    we have a verbal noun acting as the object of the verb hope and that is not a case of catenation.
  2. In:
        He decided to race on Sunday
    we have catenation again, with the verbs decide and to race following each other directly.  So, therefore:
        *He decided racing on Sunday
    is not acceptable because decide is a prospective verb which takes, as is conventional, the infinitive with to.
    However, in:
        I watched the exciting racing
    we do not have a case of catenation because racing is clearly a noun (albeit a verbal noun) preceded by the definite article and an adjective which also break the chain.  It is, however, not fully noun-like because it cannot be preceded by the indefinite article or made plural, so both
        *a racing
        *the racings
    are not allowed.
    It does have other noun-like characteristics, on the other hand, because it can be classified by a noun and it can be modified by an adjective as in, e.g.:
        I watched the horse racing
        The motor racing was exciting
        The exciting formula one motor racing is what I watched

For this reason, we distinguish below between a noun formed from a verb and a verb with the -ing ending.  The term gerund will be confined to those examples in which the insertion of a noun is possible without a change in meaning of the verb so, for example:
    I hate swimming
    Swimming is enjoyable
both contain gerunds and can be replaced with other nouns not derived from verbs so we can also have:
    I hate fish
    Fish tastes awful
by analogy.
In other cases, the use of the term -ing form will usually be preferred.



Verbs followed by the to-infinitive

agree to cooperate  

In nearly all cases, the use of the to-infinitive signals that the event represented by the main verb takes place before that represented by the following verb(s).  In other words, the use is prospective rather than retrospective.  This is not an absolute rule but is certainly the way to bet.
For example, if one says:
    I agreed to come
then the agreeing clearly precedes the coming.
This rule of thumb applies even when the following action is unfulfilled as in, e.g.:
    I declined to go with them
because even here, the declining precedes the not going.

Incidentally, the prospective nature of the to-infinitive also explains the use and meaning of the going to structure (so called).
Coursebooks and many teachers (and many teacher trainers) are wedded to the idea that going to is some kind of mysterious structure confined to future intentionality.
It isn't, naturally, because it is simply the verb go followed by a to-infinitive in the same way that verbs such as want, hope, expect, plan, aim, intend, mean and many more are used.
They all denote a prospective aspect in some way and are all analysable in precisely the same way.
In other words, the structure is not:
    going to + the bare infinitive
it is:
    going + the to-infinitive.
The upshot is that:
    I'm hoping to go
    I'm intending to go
    I'm meaning to go
    I'm going to go

are all more or less synonymous barring the strength of the intention signalled by the verb.  That consideration is semantic not grammatical.


Difficulties with the to-infinitive

stop to check the map  

There are three issues to consider:

  1. The first issue with the use of a to-infinitive after a verb is distinguishing it from the so-called infinitive of purpose, i.e., the to which forms part of a complex marginal subordinator (in order to) linking a main clause to a non-finite subordinate clause, signifying purpose.  The analysis in the guide to such matters generally avoids the use of the term infinitive of purpose because it is misleading.  It is not the meaningless to- particle which forms part of the traditional infinitive in English.
    Essentially, the use of to is sometimes simply a shorthand for the subordinator in order to, for example in
        I came to help
        He stopped to think
        She interrupted to ask a question

    all the instances of to can be replaced by another causal marker so we allow:
        She came so that she could help
        He stopped because he wanted to think
        She interrupted in order to ask a question

    so these are not, in this analysis, examples of catenation proper.
    However, in:
        I expected to be asked
        She thought to congratulate her
        They hoped to win

    we do have real catenation because in none of these cases is it possible to replace the to with the alternatives suggested above.
    We cannot have
        *I expected so that I would be asked
        *She thought because she wanted to congratulate her
        *They hoped in order to win
  2. Secondly, in the list that follows, it is usually possible to replace the second verb with a noun of any kind providing the verb itself can be or must be used transitively.  In these cases, a gerund derived from a verb is sometimes a possible alternative because it acts as the direct object of the verb itself.  Where this is possible, it is noted.
    Many verbs associated with permissibility appear to take an -ing form as a second verb but usually the case is that the -ing form is acting as a noun (as is the wont of gerunds) and is, therefore, not a verb but the direct object of the first verb.  This means that verbs such as allow, permit, forbid and so on do not occur in the list which follows as we analyse, e.g.:
        She allows smoking in the house
    as akin to
        She allows cigarettes in the house.
  3. Finally, because catenation with the to-infinitive often refers to a prospective event, any adverbial will normally be interpreted as applying to the second verb so, for example, in:
        She promised to come today
    the normal interpretation will be that it is today that she will come, not today that she promised.  Any ambiguity can be removed by moving the adverbial and having, e.g.:
        Today, she promised to come
    which only has one interpretation.
    The verb agree also creates the ambiguous sense in:
        She agreed to start immediately
    in which it is not clear whether the adverb modifies agree or start.
    Again, moving the adverb makes things clear so we can have either:
        She immediately agreed to start
        She agreed to start immediately
    Naturally, if the adverbial itself signals future time, there is no ambiguity so:
        She expected to arrive next week
    has only one possible meaning.
    The possible ambiguity can arise with a number of the verbs in the following list.

The following are the most common of these verbs with some notes where necessary.  The list includes verbs which always take a direct object and do not properly catenate because the object is positioned between the verb and the non-finite form.

Verb Example Notes
advise He advised me to try This verb is almost invariably used with a direct object.
afford We can afford to buy the car Almost invariably with can.  This verb takes a noun as a direct object but not a gerund so we allow:
    We can afford a new car
but not
    *We can afford going on holiday
agree They agreed to differ In AmE usage, this verb is transitive and that is becoming common in BrE, too so we allow also:
    We agreed the plan.
However, like afford, a gerund as the object is not allowed.
aim We aim to take a winter holiday This is akin to
    We are going to take a winter holiday
and is a prospective use.
allow I allowed him to go The verb let takes the bare infinitive (see below).
This verb has a non-catenative use and allows a gerund as the direct object, e.g.:
    Do they allow fishing here?
In the example, here the catenation has been interrupted by the direct object.
appear She appeared to agree This verb is also copular as in, e.g., She appeared agreeable.
apply They applied to leave This verb is intransitive so no direct object is allowed.
arrange They arranged to arrive early This verb is transitive and often followed by a gerund as the object as in, e.g.
    The hotel arranged parking for us.
ask John asked to leave This is a transitive verb and allows any number of direct objects, some of which, such as permission are deverbal nouns.  It cannot, however, take a gerund as its direct object.
attempt She attempted to interrupt Compare try (below) which varies in meaning.
be bound She is bound to disagree This is a marginal modal verb expressing likelihood usually, but can express obligation as in, e.g.:
    I am bound by my promise.
beg I beg to differ Formal use and collocation is limited to a few verbs (disagree, deny etc.).
begin It began to rain Also possible with the -ing form with no change in meaning.
care Would you care to dance? This verb is nearly always used in the negative or in questions only: i.e., non-assertive uses.
cease I ceased to argue The verb stop catenates with an -ing form.  With the infinitive, the interpretation of stop plus to is in order to.  This is not the case here and
    I ceased to look at the map
does not mean the same as
    I stopped to look at the map
We allow an -ing form as a direct object with this verb e.g.:
    I ceased arguing
chance I chanced to meet him in the hotel bar Formal use.
choose I chose to stay silent This verb is transitive and often followed by a gerund as the object as in, e.g.
    We chose flying over taking the train
condescend They condescended to talk to me Compare deign.  This verb can be used (rarely) in the negative:
    She condescended not to complain.
consent Do you consent to pay the money? This verb is transitive and may be followed by a gerund as the object as in, e.g.
    We consented to his practising the piano in the evenings
contrive He contrived to get lost somehow Compare manage.
continue He continued to complain Also possible with the -ing form with no change in meaning.
dare I dared to ask why This is a semi-modal verb.
decide We decided to go Compare go.
decline I decline to comment No negative use.
deign She deigned to invite them Formal use (compare the synonymous condescend).  The difference is that this verb cannot be used in the negative:
    *She deigned not to argue.
demand I demand to come Often in passive clauses:
    I demand to be heard.
deserve She deserves to win This verb is transitive and may be followed by a gerund or other noun as the object as in, e.g.
    She deserved congratulating / congratulation
Here the subject of the sentence is not doing the congratulating so the gerund form is acceptable.
determine I determined to go This is a formal use.  Frequently the participle adjective is used as in, e.g.,
    I am determined to go.
encourage She encouraged me to ask The verb is also used with a gerund as the direct object, e.g.:
    She doesn't encourage smoking in the hotel.
The verb is always transitive so very often split from the next by the direct object (see below).
endeavour I endeavoured to help Compare try which can also be followed by the -ing form.  This verb cannot.
elect She elected to stay
expect Mary expected to fail This verb is transitive and may be followed by a gerund as the object as in, e.g.
    She expected travelling would be difficult at the weekend
and by a simple noun:
    She expected rain.
fail Mary failed to win
forbid I have forbidden him to come This also works with the gerund as a direct object in, e.g.
    I forbid smoking here
Again, the verb is always transitive so split from the next verb by the direct object (see below for the passive use).
forget I forgot to say thanks See below for the changed meaning with the -ing form.
happen I happened to see her This is also considered a marginal modal auxiliary verb.
hasten I hasten to add This is now almost confined to the set expression with to add or to say.
help I helped to finish the work The bare infinitive can also be used as in, e.g.
    Can you help finish?
See also below for can't help plus the gerund.
hesitate I hesitate to complain
hope I hope to see you there
instruct She instructed them to wait This verb is almost invariably used with a direct object.
intend I intend to see him today More rarely, this verb is followed by an -ing form with no change in meaning.
invite I was invited to speak This verb is almost invariably used with a direct object and frequently in the passive voice.
learn I learnt to swim at school
long I long to see her again
manage They managed to arrive on time
mean I meant to ask but forgot Here the verb means intend but it can be followed by an -ing form when the meaning alters to involve.
move I move to adjourn A rare and formal meaning.
need I need to leave soon This is a semi-modal verb expressing obligation.
neglect I neglected to tell her This verb is transitive and may be followed by a gerund as the object as in, e.g.
    She neglected watching the children
or by a simple noun:
    She neglected her duty.
oblige She was obliged to do the work This verb is invariably used with a direct object and frequently in the passive voice.
offer I offered to help
omit I omitted to ask that question This verb is transitive and often takes an object gerund or noun phrase such as:
    I omitted painting the doors
    She omitted the attachment
order He ordered me to leave These verbs are invariably used with a direct object and frequently in the passive voice.
permit John was permitted to stay
persuade I persuaded her to pay
plan I planned to go Compare intend and mean.
prepare I prepared to travel
press I pressed him to help This verb is invariably used with a direct object and frequently in the passive voice.
pretend They pretended to work
proceed I proceeded to start at once Formal use.  Unlike the synonymous start and begin, it cannot catenate with a an -ing form.
promise I promise to help
propose I propose to go This is a slightly formal version of plan or intend and the verb can also be used to mean suggest when it is used with an -ing form.
refuse I refuse to help
remember I remembered to ask See below for the changed meaning with the -ing form.
remind They reminded us to come This verb is invariably used with a direct object and frequently in the passive voice.
request She requested them to be quiet This verb is invariably used with a direct object and frequently in the passive voice.  It is quite rare and formal.
resolve I resolved to wait
seek I sought to explain
seem She seemed to be happy Compare appear.  This verb is also frequently a copula.
start She started to eat This verb can be used, like begin, with an -ing form with no meaning change.
strive I strove to understand Formal use.
struggle The company struggles to survive
swear Mary swore to tell the truth
teach He taught me to swim These verbs are invariably used with a direct object and frequently in the passive voice.
tell I told her to try
tempt I was tempted to leave
tend They tend to stay up late This is also considered a marginal modal auxiliary verb.
threaten They threatened to sue
trouble Please don't trouble to drive This is almost exclusively used in the negative.
try Try to be more helpful See below for the changed meaning with an -ing form.
undertake They undertook to act as agents
volunteer John volunteered to help
wait I waited to see what she would say This is sometimes followed by and plus a verb as in, e.g., Wait and see.
The form is sometimes a subordinate clause:
    I waited in order to see what she would do
with a subtle change of meaning.
want I want to go now  
wish I wish to complain Formal use.  This verb is transitive and may be followed by a gerund as the object as in, e.g.
    She wished flying were possible
would like Would you like to come? By their nature, many structures with would follow this pattern.
The following only catenate in the passive.  In the active form, the object is placed between the verb and the non-finite form.
Almost all the uses are more formal.
allow They were not allowed to come  
ask She was asked to keep it  
call They were called to explain Formal use.
command I was commanded to stay  
compel John was compelled to explain  
destine He was destined to fail It is often difficult to distinguish this use from a predicative participle adjective.
encourage They were encouraged to come This is non-catenative when the participle adjective is used:
    The were encouraged by the result.
entitle I am not entitled to complain  
forbid I was forbidden to enter Actively, this verb is also used with the gerund as a direct object.
force She was forced to work late  
instruct I was instructed to remain  
intend They were intended to have the money See above for the verb used in a slightly different sense.
invite She was invited to attend  
move I was moved to complain The sense here is different from the example of move above.
order They were ordered to appear  
permit They were permitted to enter  
press She was pressed to respond  
prohibit She was prohibited to come This is an unusual use and the preferred form is the prepositional phrase with from + a gerund.
request You are requested to leave  
require She is required to remain  
teach I was taught to swim  
tell They were told to stay This verb is transitive and may be followed by a gerund as the object as in, e.g.
    She was told staying another day was possible
tempt I was tempted to go Arguably, this is a participle adjective use of the verb form.



Verbs followed by the -ing form or gerund

I enjoy relaxing in the pool  

These verbs consistently, not invariably, refer to past experience or to a retrospective view of events.
For example, if one says:
    She admitted stealing the money
it is clear that the admission follows the theft and in, e.g.:
    I hate standing in a queue
the clear implication is that the speaker has experience of standing in a queue and hates it.  Compare:
    I would hate to hurt his feelings
which is clearly a prospective use and the verb catenates with the infinitive.
This is an unreliable rule of thumb and there are many exceptions.

The other aid to memory is that the majority of verbs used with a gerund can just as easily (often more naturally) be followed by a direct noun object.  As a gerund is often described as a form of noun, this is unsurprising.  In fact, in many cases below where it is seen that the retrospective-prospective 'rule' is abrogated, a better analysis may well be that the verb is being followed by a noun-like direct object.  That is often simpler for learners to understand because they are familiar with, e.g.:
    I left the keys on the table
and it is a short step to the figurative use in:
    I left doing the cooking till later
Not listed here are phrasal and prepositional verbs because, with rare exceptions they are always followed by the gerund.

A source of difficulty here is that some transitive verbs normally followed by the to-infinitive can also take a verb with -ing as the direct object so, for example, we see:
    I omitted writing the label on the box
    I offered flying as an alternative to driving
    They permitted smoking in the theatre
    He taught woodworking at the school

and so on.
In these cases we have the -ing form acting only as a noun phrase and all can be replaced with non-verbal nouns.  It is a gerund by the definition we have above.  All those verbs appear in the list above as being followed by the to-infinitive.
In many cases in this list, it is clear that the -ing form is often acting as a simple noun complement and there is little sense of true catenation.

Verb Example Notes
acknowledge They acknowledged making a mistake  
admit They admitted stealing the money
adore I just adore watching them  
advise They advised waiting a little This appears to break the prospective rule but, arguably, is a verb which can take a nominalised clause as the direct object.
appreciate I appreciate receiving the help
avoid I can't avoid thinking about it Compare the use of help in this meaning.
can't bear I can't bear talking to him Confined to negative and interrogative uses (i.e., non-assertive forms).
complete They have completed repairing the car Arguably, a case of the gerund as a nominal object.  Compare:
    They have completed the repairs.
consider I considered taking the car These are prospective and break the 'rule'.
However, the uses are all, arguably, with the gerund used as the direct object.
    I considered the offer
    I deferred my decision
    We delayed the celebration.
defer I deferred making a decision
delay We should not delay opening
deny I deny taking the money
detest I detest queuing for things Arguably, with all four of these verbs the -ing form is a gerund and can be replaced by any other noun so we can have:
    I detest avocado
    I dislike bananas
    She enjoys her food

but in, e.g.:
    I dislike arguing with him
we have a catenative structure.
The verb dread appears to break the prospective rule but the feeling is based on some previous knowledge or experience.
(There is a prospective use of dislike which predictably takes the to-infinitive form as in, e.g.:
    I dislike to have to tell you that ...)
dislike She dislikes arguing with people
dread I dread meeting his mother
enjoy They enjoy learning French
entail The work entails rewriting the program Arguably, a case of the gerund as a nominal object.  Compare:
    The work entails a lot of expense.
escape He escaped being called up
fancy I fancy seeing a film This is a prospective use and breaks the 'rule' although it is arguably premised on seeing films before.  It is also arguably a verb which takes a nominalised object or a simple noun as in:
    I fancy some lunch.
favour She favoured waiting a little This appears to break the prospective rule but, arguably, is a verb which can take a nominalised clause as the direct object.  Compare:
    She favoured the restaurant in the market place.
finish They have finished painting the house Arguably, a case of the gerund as a nominal object.  Compare:
    They have finished the painting.
forget I forgot (about) meeting her See above for the changed meaning with the to-infinitive.
hate I hate teaching This is a gerund use.  For hate + to-infinitives, see below.
can't help I can't help thinking about it Usually confined to negative or interrogative (i.e., non-assertive uses).
(can't) imagine I can't imagine living with her This is often, but not invariably, used in the negative with can but assertive forms are also seen:
    I can imagine living here.
imply It implies spending even more money This is a prospective use and breaks the 'rule' but, arguably, is a verb which can take a nominalised clause as the direct object.  Compare:
    It implies a good deal of work.
involve It involves travelling to Russia This is a prospective use and breaks the 'rule' but, arguably, is a verb which can take a nominalised clause as the direct object.  Compare:
    It involves a lot of expense.
keep He keeps arguing with me
leave I left doing the work till later This is a prospective use and breaks the 'rule'.
Arguably, a case of the gerund as a nominal object.  Compare:
    They have left the dog outside
like I like talking to them  
loathe She loathes eating out  
love I love living here  
mention He didn't mention seeing her  
mind I don't mind waiting Usually used on the negative or, + would, in questions.
miss I miss working with them
practise She is practising playing the piano Often the verb takes a direct noun object:
    She is practising the flute.
prefer I prefer eating late This can be used with the to-infinitive with little change in meaning (see below).
quit I have quit smoking Mostly AmE usage and, arguably, the use of the gerund as a direct object:
    She has quit her job.
recall I recall seeing him Compare remember.
recollect I recollect asking
recommend I recommend asking her This is a prospective use and breaks the 'rule' but, arguably, is a verb which can take a nominalised clause as the direct object.  Compare:
    She recommended the restaurant in the market place.
regret I regret asking her See below for the changed meaning with a to-infinitive.
remember I remembered meeting her See above for the changed meaning with a to-infinitive.
require I do not require telling twice
resent I resent waiting in the cold
resist I can't resist laughing at her Almost always in the negative with can't.
resume We resumed working at 5 Unlike start and begin, this verb cannot be used with the to-infinitive.
risk He risked losing everything
see I can see knowing for certain is better
shun She shunned meeting them This is a rare use.
(can't) stand I can't stand walking in the wind This is almost solely used in the negative and with the modal auxiliary verb.
stop Please stop talking This is a prospective use and breaks the 'rule' but, arguably, is a verb which can take a nominalised clause as the direct object.  Compare:
    She stopped her presentation.
suggest I suggest waiting a little Like recommend, this verb takes a direct object noun phrase, too:
    I suggest the fish.
tolerate I can tolerate working with them This verb often takes a simple noun direct object:
    I can't tolerate his behaviour.
try Try using a heavier hammer See above for the changed meaning with a to-infinitive.
understand We understand getting the right price is vital
want The window wants cleaning BrE usage.
The following only catenate marginally because a possessive determiner (or, informally, an object pronoun) is inserted between the verb and the non-finite form.
excuse I can't excuse her insulting me In all these cases, the use of the -ing form may be considered as the gerund acting as a direct object of the verb so we can also encounter, e.g.:
    I can't excuse rudeness
    Can you explain the problem?
    Please forgive any mistakes
    He won't pardon errors
   That won't prevent the leaks
    We don't understand the instructions
explain Can you explain their leaving?
forgive Please forgive my asking
pardon I can't pardon her swearing
prevent I cannot prevent your going
understand I understand her leaving early



Verbs followed by the either an -ing form or to-infinitive with no (or very little) change in meaning

I started making mistakes
when I began to get tired

There are a few verbs which can be followed by either the to-infinitive or an -ing form with no change in meaning.  Sometimes one form is more common and that is noted here.

  • intend
    I intend going
    I intend to go

    (The second is preferred.)
  • start
    I started to walk
    I started walking

    (Neither is strongly preferred.)
  • bear
    I can't bear to listen to rap music
    I can't bear listening to rap music

    (The second is usually preferred.)
  • begin
    It began to snow
    It began snowing

    (The first is preferred.)
  • bother
    She didn't bother telling me
    She didn't bother to tell me

    (Neither is strongly preferred.)
  • continue
    He continued to complain
    He continued complaining

    (Neither is strongly preferred.)
  • like
    I like swimming
    I like to swim

    (The first is preferred and the second sometimes refers to a specific type of action.  E.g.,
    I like to swim after breakfast)
  • prefer
    I prefer working at home
    I prefer to work at home

    (Neither is strongly preferred.)



Verbs followed by the either an -ing form or to-infinitive with a change in meaning

try taking a painkiller or
try to eat something

A few polysemous verbs vary in meaning depending on whether they are followed by an -ing form or a to-infinitive.  It is here that the prospective - retrospective 'rule' comes into its own.

  • remember
        I remember posting the letter
        I remembered to post the letter

    (The first means that the remembering came after the act of posting; the second means that the remembering came before the act of posting.)
  • forget
        I forgot meeting him
        I forgot to meet him

    (The first means that the forgetting came after the meeting; the second means that the forgetting came first so the meeting did not happen.)
    The usual form is to insert about after the verb.  It is rarer without the preposition.
  • regret
        I regret to tell you that you are wrong
        I regret telling you that you are wrong

    (The first introduces the act of telling; the second looks back on it with regret.)
  • mean
        I mean to talk to her
        It means travelling to London

    (The first means intend; the second means involves.)
  • try
        Try opening a window
        Try to open a window

    (The first is a suggestion to see if an action improves things; the second anticipates that the act will be difficult or impossible.)
  • propose
        I propose to go to America
        I propose going to America

    (The first means intend; the second means suggest.)
  • hate
        I hate to be a bother
        I hate being a bother

    (The first of these is prospective and means something like I'm sorry; the second is retrospective and being is a gerund.)



Verbs followed by to and an -ing form

He is accustomed to speaking to groups  

A few verbs are followed by to plus an -ing form.  They may alternatively simply be analysed as the use of a gerund after the preposition to (as is entirely normal) in the same way that we have a gerund following prepositional verbs such as:
    I depend on receiving the money
    He can't conceive of arriving late
    They complained about eating so early
In the following list, object to and commit to may certainly be analysed in that way.
This is almost the complete list (we think):

  • be used
        I am used to working late at the office
  • be accustomed
        I am accustomed to walking in the snow
  • be up
        Are you up to eating something?
  • feel up
        Do you feel up to walking to town after lunch?
  • look forward
        I look forward to meeting her mother
  • object
        I object to waiting for you in the rain
  • take
        I took to playing golf when I retired
  • be averse
        I am averse to eating in smoky restaurants
  • be opposed
        I am opposed to taking risks with my money
  • be committed
        She is committed to helping them



Verbs followed by a bare infinitive

A few verbs can catenate with the bare infinitive although in one case (help) the to-infinitive is also possible.  Here's the list:

  • let
        Don't let go!
  • make
        I can make do with almost no money
  • hear
        I hear tell he's quite rich
  • help
        Please help carry the table

    (Please help to carry the table is also possible but synonyms of help are not, so
        *I assisted / aided repair the table
    are not available.)

Coordinated verbs and ellipsis of and

go jump in the lake  

The verbs come and go are often, it is averred, followed by the bare infinitive as in, e.g.:
    Come have a drink
    Go take a seat at the front
    Please come sit by me
    You should go see

However, these are not cases of simple catenation because they are, in fact, examples of the ellipsis of a conjunction.  All these examples are, in the full form:
    Come and have a drink
    Go and take a seat at the front
    Please come and sit by me
    You should go and see

The reason for excluding these forms from cases of true catenation is that the senses of the two verbs are not connected, they are simply coordinated and could be expressed in separate sentences or clauses.  We can equally well have, therefore:
    Please come in.  Have a drink
    Go to the front and sit down
    Come over here and you'll be able to sit down by me
    You should go so that you can see

The other part of explanation is that these two verbs do not, in reality, catenate at all in the sense of the lists above.  Both are used with coordination expressions signifying purpose or causality.  We can, therefore, rephrase all the examples as:
    Come so that you can have a drink
    Go with the aim of taking a seat at the front
    Please come in order to sit by me
    You should go so you can see

The verbs wait and see and come and look are frequently coordinated as in, for example:
    We must wait and see what the weather's like
    Come and look what I have found
but with other verbs, wait and come take the to-infinitive as in, e.g.:
    I will wait to hear from her
    I waited to eat until she arrived
    I came to help
    She came to believe him
The verb try is also frequently used colloquially coordinated with others so we hear (but rarely read):
    Try and help
    Try and see if you can come
but in more formal uses, in this meaning try is usually catenated with the to-infinitive.


make it

Causative verbs

Make it so  

We poured some doubt at the outset of this guide on the assumption that verbs which do not form uninterrupted chains are actually definable as catenative in the true sense.  However, some causative verbs are seen that way so they are included here.

Three, and only three, causative verbs catenate with the bare infinitive: have, let and make.
For example:
    She had the boy re-do his homework
    She let the children go home early
    They made the people wait too long

and that seems simple enough.
However, the direct object in these sentences breaks the chain.
There exists, however, a nasty colligation trap for the unwary which does concern catenation.  In the passive, the case is altered and the to-infinitive substituted for the bare infinitive with only two of these verbs (have and make but not let) and that is wholly non-intuitive, causing problems for learners.  We get, therefore:
    The boy was made to re-do his homework
    The children were let go home early
    The people were made to wait too long
Moreover, let is different in allowing a passive infinitive as in:
    They let the dogs be walked by the neighbours
and neither make nor have can be used that way so we do not allow:
    *They made the dogs to be walked by the neighbours
    *They had the dogs be walked by the neighbours.
For more on the causative, see the guide, linked below.


Verbs of perception

I can hear splashing  

Again, the use of many of these verbs requires a direct object to break the catenation so they are not stricto sensu catenating forms.  However, ...

There are a number of verbs, often lumped together in a single group, unfortunately for learners, which refer to perception and catenate with the bare infinitive in some cases.
Here's a non-exhaustive list:

general perception
detect, discern, miss, note, perceive, sense, spot
catch (sight of), espy, examine, gaze (at), glimpse, inspect, look (at), notice, observe, see, stare (at), view, watch, witness
hear, listen (to)

The list is quite unbalanced, as you see / perceive / notice etc. because most of our sensory perception is visual.
Added to the mix is that some, such as listen, observe, examine are active in the sense of purposeful but others such as see, hear and smell are often passive and non-purposeful.  The distinction is not always clear to learners whose languages may differ.

These verbs can take either a bare infinitive or, slightly more formally, and irregularly, an -ing participle clause.
The key is often to whether reference is to the whole action or a part of it, usually.  For example:
    I saw him drink the beer
implies that I saw the whole action, from the full to the empty glass, whereas:
    I saw him drinking the beer
implies that I only saw a part of the action which started before and finished after my observation.
Equally, there is a difference between:
    I heard her sing at the concert
    I heard her singing upstairs
in which the first implies that I watched the whole performance and the second that I heard only part of her singing.
For example:

I detected John asking Mary We inspected the engine start / starting
I discerned food cooking They looked at the sun rise / rising
I missed the food cooking I noticed the ground move / moving
I noted the people come / coming They observed the team play / playing
She perceived the class misbehave / misbehaving We stared at the man cycling
I sensed the mood change / changing They viewed the bar open / opening
They spotted the earth shake / shaking We watched John paint / painting the picture
We caught sight of the tree falling I witnessed the accident happen / happening
They espied the cook leaving by the back door She smelled the food cook / cooking
We examined the class work / working They felt the house shake / shaking
They gazed at the moon wax / waxing We heard the man move / moving
I glimpsed the door open / opening We listened to John play / playing piano

As with causative verbs, however, a fly resides in the ointment because when we make any of the sentences passive, the option has to be the to- infinitive not the bare infinitive or the participle form.
So it is that we get:
    They were heard to move
    The food was seen to cook
    The house was felt to shake

and so on.
And not:
    *The cook was seen leave
    *The house was felt shake
    *The accident was witnessed happen

That is fully non-intuitive for learners, causes problems and needs to be taught and practised.



Teaching the forms

Teaching in this area is undeniably challenging especially when one considers that many languages do not share the characteristics of English either having no infinitive form at all (like Greek) or, like French and many others, having only a single form of the non-finite with no distinction between, e.g., to smoke and smoking in that sense.
Learners whose first language only has one non-finite form to choose will often select the infinitive so we hear errors such as:
    *I dislike to do that
or they may settle on the -ing form as their sole choice and say:
    *I expected for going
A third possibility is that, in some despair, learners will choose the form at random.

There are some possible ways to help:

Aiding noticing of chunks:
Whenever a text is used, for whatever purpose, it is useful if learners can be helped to notice chunks of language which they can commit to memory and there are some obvious examples in the lists above:
    look forward to seeing
    beg to differ
    chance to meet
    happen to see

It is also worth taking the time to check whether a verb is catenative and what usually follows it.  That way, verbs which are followed by the to-infinitive can be taught with to included in the chunk so, instead of teaching
    arrange, choose, deserve, expect
as single words, teaching
    arrange to, choose to, deserve to, expect to
helps considerably.
This is similar to the ways in which one might approach phrasal and prepositional verbs.
The danger with this approach is, however, that many of these verbs are transitive and take a direct object so learning them as chunks can lead to error such as:
    *I arranged to a holiday
They may also be followed by a nominalised clause and, again, there is no place for to in such constructions and the approach may produce error, for example:
    *I expect to she will be there.
Awareness-raising of the rule of thumb
We saw above that the to-infinitive generally is prospective in nature so, for example:
    I want to go
    I intend to go
    I plan to go
    I arranged to go
    I determined to go
    I chose to go
    I decided to go
    I expected to go
    I hoped to go
    I forgot to go

all refer to the future after the main verb.
The -ing, gerund form, is often used with verbs that refer to past experience or to past events so, for example:
    I forget talking to her
    I regret upsetting her
    I deny taking it
    I hate waiting in queues
    I loathe eating out
    I dislike swimming
    I recall seeing the film

all refer to the speaker's past experience or to events that precede the main verb.
This is by no means an infallible rule and there are numerous exceptions but it takes some of the guessing out of the equation.
Awareness-raising of synonymy and antonymy
Verbs which are synonymous (or nearly so) or antonymous will often share characteristics regarding catenation so, for example:
    hate, love, like, loathe, enjoy, detest, adore
are all followed by the -ing form
    intend, mean, plan, arrange, promise, swear, long, hope
    compel, command, instruct, force, order, encourage, forbid, permit
are all followed by the to-infinitive.
If a new verb is encountered and the meaning is similar to one already known, it is often helpful to know that it is likely to catenate in the same way.
Not being too technical
We saw above that true catenative verbs abut each other in sequences with no intervening object so while, e.g.:
    I compelled him to stay
is not, technically, catenative because the object breaks the chain
    He was compelled to stay
is catenative because the verbs follow in sequence.
However, for teaching purposes, whether there is an intervening object or not makes no difference to the basic structure of the clause and can be ignored.
Nevertheless, when an intervening object is involved, especially if it is a long one, we need to alert learners so that they can notice the basic structure in for example:
    She asked my brother, my two sisters and myself to come to her party.
    She can't stand the neighbours and their friends continually having parties.
Using -ing form, noun formed from a verb or gerund
We saw above that there are times when verbs will combine with a gerund or with an infinitive depending on how the following word is seen.  As a noun in, for example:
    She forbade smoking in the room
    He was forbidden to smoke in the room
In cases such as these, it may be better to tell learners that we have a noun in the first example, formed from the verb and a verb proper in the second.


By definition catenative verbs occur in connected speech so, apart from the usual considerations of getting the pronunciation of individual sounds right, it is worth considering what features of connected speech may be present in any catenated clause.
There are no pronunciation issues which are unique to catenative verb constructions but it is as well to be aware of what to teach in this area if learners are to sound natural.

  1. The weakened form of to.
    The to-infinitive is almost always pronounced with a weakened form of to so we get, for example:
        She wanted to go
        They waited to see
        Mary expected to take the train

    with to pronounced as /tə/ in all cases (/ˈwɒn.tɪd.tə.ɡəʊ/, for example).
  2. Elision, gemination and twin sounds
    If the first verb ends in a /t/ sound, there is a strong tendency to elide one of /t/ sounds altogether and we get, e.g.:
        hoped to be there
    pronounced as
    there is a case to be made that in careful speech the sound may be very slightly lengthened (that's gemination) so we get the same phrase pronounced as
    /həʊptː.ə.bi.ðeə/ with a slightly longer /t/ sound than is normal.
    Alternatively, and much less frequently, in careful speech, both /t/ sounds are present as in:
  3. Assimilation and elision
    This is a common feature of connected speech certainly not confined to catenative verbs.  Even when the first verb does not end in a /t/ sound but, as is frequently the case, with a /d/, some assimilation or even full elision of the /t/ of to is noticeable so we get:
        wanted to be there
    pronounced as
  4. Catenation
    This is, of course, the other use of the term as it applies to connected speech phenomena and means that instead of
        regret asking
    being pronounced as
    the /t/ may be shifted to the beginning of the second verb and it sounds more like:
    This is not a common feature and probably not one on which to dwell in the classroom.

Other features of connected speech may be present in any set of catenative verbs that you are setting out to teach so checking for such issues at the planning stage can avoid problems later.


Related guides
PDF document 1 this is a downloadable file of the lists in this guide
PDF document 2 this is a simpler and less accurate list from the initial plus area which has two lists of verbs, followed by either -ing forms or the to-infinitive
infinitive: essentials a simpler guide in the initial training section
causative for a guide to causative structures and verbs including make, let, have
semi-modal auxiliary verbs for uses of verbs such as dare, used and need and some marginal modal auxiliary verbs
infinitives a more detailed guide in the in-service section
finite and non-finite forms a guide to the difference
multi-word verbs for more about transitive and non-transitive uses of prepositional verbs
gerund and infinitive a basic guide in the initial plus section with some other teaching ideas and an example text
nouns for more on how verbal nouns are formed
colligation a guide to how colligating words share structural characteristics in general

Chalker, S, 1984, Current English Grammar, London: Macmillan
Hoey, M, 2003, What's in a word?, Macmillan, MED Magazine, Issue 10, August 2003
McLeod, D, n.d., Practising English, Ramsgate, UK: Home Language International