What's the difference between gerunds and the infinitive?

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 
Gerunds and Infinitives English Grammar

Ajarn Ken,

Can you tell me what the difference is between gerunds and the infinitive of verbs?

thank you

Ami from France

Hi Ami

However, sometimes there is a slight difference in MEANING between the –ing form (doing / leaving) and the infinitive form (to do / to leave).

With some verbs (i.e. a verb that expresses a strong feeling such as “hate”) sometimes the –ing form gives a sense of the action really happening, whereas the infinitive form points to a possible future action. Look at the following sentences:

  • I hate doing the same thing in my job every day. 
    (The person speaking may not be enjoying what he/she is doing at that moment in time.)

  • I hate to do the same thing in my job every day. 
    (The person speaking may not be looking forward to going to work later.)

  • I hate leaving everything until the last minute. 
    (The person saying this may be annoyed at that moment in time and regrets that he/she didn’t start preparing for whatever it is earlier.)

  • I hate to leave everything until the last minute.
    (The person saying this may be making a general statement about their attitude towards future situations.)

It is important to place these sentences in a context to aid further understanding.

  • I didn't like complaining about my boss. 
    (The person speaking complained, but didn't enjoy it.)

  • I didn't like to complain about my boss.
    (The person speaking didn't complain at all because it wasn't a good idea or the speaker got cold feet.)

If you understand that the speaker’s boss had done something to upset them earlier that day, it is easy to understand clearly the meaning of these two sentences.

The difference in meaning between a gerund and an infinitive is more significant with the following verbs:

Forget:

  • I forgot posting the letter (did it, then had a mental lapse)
  • I forgot to post the letter (had a mental lapse, and therefore did not do it)

Mean:

  • This new order will mean working overtime (entail)
  • I only meant to encourage him. (intend)

Regret:

  • I regret yelling at him (do it, then feel bad)
  • We regret to inform you that your application has not been successful (feel bad, but then do it)

Try:

  • Why don’t you try adding some sugar and see if it tastes better that way? (do it as an experiment)
  • I tried to find some sugar in the house but I couldn’t. (make an effort, often not successful)

It’s important for learners of English to avoid confusing gerunds with the infinitive (to + verb) form.

  • I love to swim in the sea.
  • We stopped to rest after two hours of hard work.
  • I like to play squash every week.

Please note that the main verbs in these sentences are “love”, “stopped” and “like”. These verbs are followed by infinitives: “to swim”, “to rest” and “to play”.

Most of the verbs that can be followed by a gerund cannot be followed by an infinitive, and vice versa. For example:

  • I enjoy dancing (not ‘to dance”)
  • He can’t afford to go abroad (not “going”)

Hope this answers your question! Good luck with your English

Ajarn Ken

LearnEnglish365 Podcasts