Gerund vs. infinitive: 10 rules to consider
Published on May 4, 2021 / Updated on January 9, 2024
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.
1. Gerunds can be the subject of a sentence
2. Gerunds and infinitives can both be the object of a sentence
3. Some verbs only work with gerunds as the object
4. Some verbs only work with infinitives as the object
5. Some verbs work with both gerunds and infinitives
6. Infinitives are often used after adjectives
7. Infinitives are used with ‘too’ and ‘enough’
8. Infinitives are used after indirect objects
9. Gerunds are used after most prepositions
10. Infinitives are used to explain purpose
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. And what is an infinitive? The 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.
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.
When it comes to the object of a sentence, both gerunds and infinitives can do the job:
Wondering why the main verbs are different in the two sentences above (‘enjoys’ vs. ‘decided’)?
We’ll cover that in rule #3 – keep reading!
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:
The verb ‘miss’ works in a sentence with gerunds, whereas the verb ‘want’ does not.
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:
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 form.
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:
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:
Another place you’ll see infinitives is in a sentence that uses the words ‘too’ or ‘enough’:
In a sentence with an indirect object, you’ll use an infinitive after that object, whether it’s a noun or pronoun:
Got a preposition in your sentence? Follow it with a gerund! Nearly all prepositions take a gerund rather than an infinitive:
To explain a reason or a purpose for doing something, use an infinitive. They more or less answer the question ‘Why’?
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!
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