Using Gerund or Infinitive

choosing between a gerund or an infinitive after certain verbs

Although it is seldom a serious problem for native English speakers, deciding whether to use a GerundOpens in new window or an InfinitiveOpens in new window after a verb can be confusing among students for whom English is a second language.

  • Why do we decide to run, but we would never decide running ?
  • On the other hand, we might avoid running, but we would not avoid to run.
  • And finally, we might like running and would also like to run.

Because some verbs take Gerunds, some verbs take Infinitives; deciding whether to use a Gerund or an Infinitive after certain verbs can be confusing among non-native speakers of English.

Within the remainder of this entry we will examine the various options that determine whether to use infinitive or gerund. To do so, we must first distinguish the difference between Gerunds and Infinitives.

Difference between Gerunds and Infinitives

One prime difference between Gerunds and Infinitives is that gerund have actual meanings while infinitive have potential meanings.

Although a Gerund and an Infinitive will often have practically the same meaning, there can be a difference in meaning, as is between sentences 1) and 2) below.

  • 1)  Running in the park after dark can be dangerous.→Gerund
  • 2)  To run in the park after dark can be dangerous.→Infinitive

Gerunds are used to describe an “actual, vivid, or fulfilled action” whereas Infinitives are better used to describe “potential, hypothetical, or future events” (Frodesen & Eyring 297).

This is especially true with three kinds of verbs:

    Actual Event (Gerund)
  • I hated practicing my violin while the other kids were playing outside.
  • Potential Event (Infinitive)
  • I prefer to practice during the day.
    Actual Event (Gerund)
  • 1)  We began working on this project two years ago.
  • 2)  We finished working on this project a month ago. (Finish always takes a gerund.)
  • Potential Event (Infinitive)
  • 1)  We will continue to work on this project for the next four months.
  • 2)  I wonder when we will start to wrap up this project.
    Actual Event (Gerund)
  • Juanita forgot doing her homework. (meaning that Juanita did her homework but that she forgot she had done so)
  • Potential Event (Infinitive)
  • Juanita forgot to do her homework. (meaning that Juanita failed to do her homework because she didn't remember to do it)

Gerunds can accompany a form of the verb to go in many idiomatic expressions:

    For Example:
  • 1)  Let's go shopping.
  • 2)  We went jogging yesterday.
  • 3)  She goes bowling every Friday night.

Gerunds can accompany certain verbs to express actual events:

    For Example:
  • 1)  Did I mention reading that novel last summer?
  • 2)  I recommend leaving while we can.
  • 3)  I have quit smoking.

The following verbs will be followed by a gerund:

Verbs of Initiation, Completion and Incompletion
anticipateavoidbegin
ceasestartcomplete
stopdelayfinish
getthroughgive up
postponequitrisk [and] try
Verbs of Communication
admitadvisedeny
discussmentionsuggest
reportrecommendurge [and] encourage
Verbs of Continuing Action
continuecan't helppractice
involvekeepKeep on
Verbs of Emotion
appreciatedislikeenjoy
hatelikelove
minddon't mindmiss
regretcan't standprefer
resentresisttolerate
Verbs of Mental Process
anticipateconsiderforget
imaginerecallremember
seecan't seeunderstand

The verbs in the following table can be followed by either an infinitive or a gerund, and there will be virtually no difference in the meaning of the two sentences.

  • 1)  I like to play basketball in the park.
  • 2)  I like playing basketball in the park.
attemptbegincontinue
hatelikelove
neglectpreferregret
can't standstandstart

The verbs in this next, very small table can be followed by either an infinitive or a gerund, but there will be a difference in meaning. I stopped smoking means something quite different, for instance, from I stopped to smoke. The infinitive form will usually describe a potential action.

forget remember stop

It is clear that some verbs take Gerunds, some verbs take Infinitives, and some verbs take both. The following tables of verbs should help you understand the various options that determine whether to use infinitive or gerund.

The verbs in the table below will be followed by an infinitive.

Precept Examples:
  • We decided to leave.
  • He manages, somehow, to win.
  • It is threatening to rain.
acknowledgechooseenjoyhope
recommendseemadmitplan
commandexpectimaginerefuse
rememberstartregretafford
anticipatestopteachprefer
considerfeelinviteagree
appreciatedareallowforbid
continueforceletdecide
encouragehatehavemiss
challengehearneedbegin
celebratenoticeseeget
understandremindtelllove
promisewantwishwatch
give upmakeask(cannot) *help
begavoiddiscussdislike
mentionpersuadeconsentfinish

Notice that many, but not all, of these verbs suggest a potential event. Some of the verbs in the following table may be followed by a gerund if they are describing an “actual, vivid or fulfilled action” (Frodesen).

Precept Examples
  • We love running.
  • They began farming the land.
Verbs of Emotion
caredesirehate
loathelikehate
loveregretyearn
Verbs of Choice or Intent
agreechoosedecide
expecthopeintend
needplanprefer
prepareproposerefuse
wantwish
Verbs of Initiation, Completion, and Incompletion
beginceasecommence
failgethesitate
manageneglectstart
tryundertake
Verbs of Mental Process
forgetknow howlearn [and] remember
Verbs of Request and Promise
demandofferswear
vowpromisethreaten
Intransitive Verbs
appearhappenseem [and] tend
Miscellaneous Verbs
affordarrangecontinue
claimpretendwait