Should you use infinitive or gerund?

by Andrea Byaruhanga
May 04, 2021
woman learning the difference between an infinitive and gerund in english

A verb is one thing, and a noun is another completely separate thing … right? Not always. There are certain verb forms that can actually take the place of a noun in a sentence. These adaptable verb forms are called gerunds and infinitives. Below, we’ll give you all the details about what they look like, when to use them, and more. 

Is it an infinitive or gerund?

First things first: let’s compare the difference between the gerund verb form and the infinitive verb form.

A gerund is in the form of the present participle, meaning it ends in ‘-ing’ – ‘swimming’, for example. 

An infinitive, on the other hand, begins with ‘to’, as in ‘to swim’.

Even though both gerunds and infinitives can be used as nouns in a sentence, there are very specific rules telling us when to use which one. 

Let’s discuss these rules below.

1. Gerunds can be the subject of a sentence

It’s common to see these ‘-ing’ verb forms at the beginning of a sentence. 

Look at this sentence, for example: Smoking is bad for you’.

In the above example, you can see that the gerund ‘smoking’ is acting as the subject. Also, you know it’s taking the place of a noun, because you can replace it with a more traditional-looking noun, and the grammar would still work (e.g., ‘Chocolate is bad for you’.)

Note: While it’s sometimes possible for infinitives to be the subject of a sentence, it sounds very formal and is not as common in everyday English. 

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2. Gerunds and infinitives can both be the object of a sentence

When it comes to the object of a sentence, both gerunds and infinitives can do the job: 

  • Gerund: She enjoys dancing to hip hop music. 
  • Infinitive: They decided to dance at the club.  

Wondering why the main verbs are different in the two sentences above (‘enjoys’ vs. ‘decided’)?  

We’ll cover that in rule #3 – keep reading!

3. Some verbs only work with gerunds as the object

Depending on the main verb in your sentence, you may or may not use a gerund as the object of the sentence. That’s because not all verbs work with gerunds, as shown below:

  • Correct: I miss seeing my friends every weekend.
  • Incorrect: I want seeing my friends every weekend.

The verb ‘miss’ works in a sentence with gerunds, whereas the verb ‘want’ does not. 

Here’s a list of some common verbs that are used with gerunds: 

allowappreciateavoidcan’t help
celebrateconsiderdelaydiscuss
dislikeenjoyescapeexplain
fearfeel likefinishgive up
keep/keep onmentionmindmiss
permitpracticerecommendrisk
suggestsupporttolerateunderstand
  • I appreciate getting advice from you. 
  • I can’t help crying when I see that advert.
  • They’ve finally finished building their dream home!
  • You should study – don’t risk failing the test!
  • Don’t delay getting the vaccine!

4. Some verbs only work with infinitives as the object

You probably saw this one coming. While some verbs are only used with gerunds, others are only used with infinitives. 

Let’s flip the example from above to illustrate:

  • Correct: I want to see my friends every weekend. 
  • Incorrect: I miss to see my friends every weekend.

In this case, the verb ‘want’ is the correct one to use with an infinitive as the object. The verb ‘miss’ does not work with an infinitive. 

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These are a few of the verbs that are used with infinitives:

agreeappearaskattempt
can/can’t affordcan/can’t waitchoosedecide
deserveexpectfailget
grow uphopelearnmanage
meanneedofferplan
preparepretendpromiserefuse
requestseemwaitwant
  • We can’t wait to go on holiday again!
  • She decided to get a dragon tattoo.
  • I think he’ll grow up to be a basketball player.
  • He promised to call me tomorrow evening.
  • That child refuses to eat any green vegetables. 

5. Some verbs work with both gerunds and infinitives

We’ve seen above that there are many situations in which you have to choose between either a gerund or an infinitive depending on the main verb. But some verbs that can take both gerunds and infinitives and the meaning of the sentence won’t change. 

Here are some of the most common ones:

begincan’t standcontinuehate
likelovepreferstart
  • Every morning, I begin working at 8:30. 

Every morning, I begin to work at 8:30. 

  • I hate going grocery shopping on Saturdays.

I hate to go grocery shopping on Saturdays. 

  • She prefers eating salad for dinner.

She prefers to eat salad for dinner. 

6. Infinitives are often used after adjectives

We’ve talked a lot about verbs, but now we’re shifting to adjectives. It’s very common for an adjective to be paired with an infinitive in a sentence:

  • It’s very difficult to quit drinking coffee. 
  • My mom thinks it’s fun to bake fancy cakes.

7. Infinitives are used with ‘too’ and ‘enough’

Another place you’ll see infinitives is in a sentence that uses the words ‘too’ or ‘enough’:

  • It’s too cold to eat outside today. 
  • I’m not brave enough to ride that roller coaster. 

8. Infinitives are used after indirect objects

In a sentence with an indirect object, you’ll use an infinitive after that object, whether it’s a noun or pronoun:

  • I told them to stop fighting. 
  • He advised my mom to pay her taxes immediately.

9. Gerunds are used after most prepositions

Got a preposition in your sentence? Follow it with a gerund! Nearly all prepositions take a gerund rather than an infinitive:

  • Have you heard of sand surfing?
  • She told me about working in Germany. 

10. Infinitives are used to explain purpose

To explain a reason or a purpose for doing something, use an infinitive. They more or less answer the question ‘Why’?

  • I’m learning English to get more job opportunities. 

→ Answers the question ‘Why are you learning English?’

  • I’ve taken up running to increase my fitness level.

→ Answers the question ‘Why have you taken up running?’

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Is it an infinitive or a gerund? Keep learning the differences

Knowing the differences between infinitives and gerunds can be tricky at times, but remembering these tips will definitely help. Before long, you’ll find it easy to know which is which!

If you’d like to dive deeper into this topic and more, try Lingoda. Our qualified, native-speaking teachers would love to help you out! Pick your plan today. 

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