To learn or learning? To eat or eating? To dream or dreaming? The difference between gerunds and infinitives is one of those things that comes naturally for native speakers but can be a nightmare for English Language Learners. Here’s a simple explanation and four quick examples to help you keep them straight.
A verb is an action word. In English, if a verb starts with the word “to,” it is an infinitive. If a verb ends with “ing,” it is a gerund. Verbs can be either gerunds or infinitives, but they can’t be both!
When two verbs are together in a sentence, the first verb agrees with the subject. The second verb can be either a gerund or an infinitive. The first verb determines whether the second verb should be a gerund or an infinitive.
These verbs need to be followed by gerunds:
You can’t say, “I enjoy to drive.” You have to say, “I enjoy driving.”
Read a longer list of verbs that require gerunds here.
These verbs need to be followed by infinitives:
You can’t say, “She promises studying.” You have to say, “She promises to study.”
Read a longer list of verbs that require infinitives here.
Some verbs can be followed by either a gerund or an infinitive. Here are a few:
These verbs can be followed by a gerund or a noun/infinitive combo.
These verbs can have either gerunds or infinitives, but the meaning of the sentence changes.
How do you know when to use a gerund and when to use an infinitive? You have to learn the verbs. You could memorize the list of verbs above. However, native English speakers don’t usually learn them like that. Just pick a few verbs at a time and practice using them correctly until you know what sounds correct and what sounds wrong.
Play this Battleship game to practice using gerunds and infinitives correctly.
Watch this short educational video by a student from the University of Oregon:
Look for the girl with the broken smile,
ask her if she wants to stay awhile. Maroon 5 (Photo credit: trashpaintedgold)
Can you complete these song lyrics with gerunds or infinitives?
1. I can’t help __ in love with you. (fall)
2. I don’t mind ___ every day out on your corner in the pouring rain. (stand)
3. I want __ free, I want __ free, I want __ free from your lies, you’re so self-satisfied, I don’t need you. (break / break / break)
4. Today I don’t feel like __ anything, I just want to stay in my bed. (do)
5. I hate __ up out of the blue uninvited but I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t hide it, I had hoped you’d see my face and be reminded that for me it isn’t over. (turn)
6. So I cross my heart and I hope __ that I’ll only stay with you one more night. (die)
7. I don’t need __ to control you, look into my eyes and I’ll own you with them moves like Jagger. (try)
8. Stop __, stop __, I don’t want to think anymore. I left my head and my heart on the dance floor. (call / call)
9. Hey Jude, don’t let me down, you have found her, now go and get her. Remember __ her into your heart, then you can start __ it better. (let / make)
Check your answers here. The songs are not in the same order as the questions, so pay attention!
Here’s another set of song lyrics. Fill in the blanks with gerunds or infinitives.
1. You make me feel like __, I want __ the night away. (dance / dance)
2. A wise man said only fools rush in, but I can’t help ___ in love with you. (fall)
3. I forgot __ __ her, I can’t seem to get her off my mind. (remember / forget)
4. I guess you’d call it cowardice, but I’m not prepared to go on line this. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand ___, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand ___, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand ___ you. (lose / lose / lose)
5. You gave me a reason to believe in myself, just when I’d given up ___. (dream)
6. My soul starts spinning again, I can’t stop ___ no I won’t stop ___. (feel / feel)
Watch the video to check your answers. The songs are in order.
Check out this rap between two characters, Mike (Mr. Infinitive), and Paul (Mr. Gerund).
Want more single-serving grammar? Click here for more Four quick examples grammar explanations.
Need more examples? Here’s another explanation with practice exercises for gerunds and infinitives.