FCE Grammar Revision








Gerund or Infinitive?


The meaning of highlighted words is explained at the end of the passage.


English has two types of verbal nouns, the infinitive (with or without "to") and the gerund (the -ing form). Most verbs which take a verbal noun can be followed by only one or the other (either the gerund or the infinitive, but not both).

However there are certain verbs which can be followed by either a gerund or an infinitive and they are the subject of this article.


Some verbs can be followed by either the gerund or the infinitive and it is only a matter of style which you use. These include continue, start and begin.

e.g. The fans continued to shout / shouting at the referee.
e.g. Helen started to cough / coughing because of her bad cold.
e.g. It began to rain / raining.

Some verbs can take either gerund or infinitive in most tenses (though British English prefers the gerund, the infinitive is common in US English), but are only used with the infinitive when they are in the conditional. These are: hate, love, can't bear, like, dislike and prefer.

e.g. I hate talking to her.
e.g. I like to get up early on Sunday mornings and go riding.
      ... but: 
e.g. I like getting up early on Sunday mornings to go riding.

e.g. I couldn't bear to live in that country.
e.g. I'd prefer to see the manager early tomorrow.


However with a number of verbs the meaning of the sentences changes, depending on whether we use the gerund or the infinitive.

a. Reference to the Future and the Past

With the verbs remember and forget, the gerund refers to an action which took place before the act of remembering or forgetting. So,

e.g. I remember giving him the key
I remember having given him the key  or
I remember the moment in which I gave him the key.

e.g. I will never forget going water rafting in Africa
I will never forget the occasion on which we went water rafting in Africa.

However with remember and forget, the infinitive refers to an action which took place after the act of remembering or forgetting. So,

e.g. I remember to feed the cat
I remember that it was my responsibility to feed the cat and I fed her.

e.g. I forgot to post that letter
I did not post the letter because I forgot.

b. Regret

The verb regret is similar. Regret + gerund refers to the past whereas regret + infinitive is used to introduce bad news (I regret to say..., I regret to tell you..., I regret to inform you...).
So we say: 

e.g. I regret telling him the secret   means
I regret having told him the secret   or
I wish I hadn't told him the secret.

e.g. I regret to say that I just ran over your dog!
I'm very sorry but I just killed your dog with my car.

e.g. I regret to inform you that your son is missing in action
It is my sad responsibility to inform you that we don't know if your son is alive or dead.


c. Stop

Stop + gerund means that you interrupt the activity mentioned in the gerund:

You must stop smoking.

However, stop + infinitive means that you interrupt the activity that you are doing to do the activity mentioned in the infinitive. So,

e.g. The window-cleaners stopped to smoke   means
They stopped cleaning the windows in order to have a cigarette.

d. Go on

Go on + gerund means the same as continue + gerund / infinitive:

He went on talking about himself, even though nobody was listening.

However, go on + infinitive means to start something new:

e.g. He went on to talk about his childhood in Hong Kong   means
He was talking about one thing and then he changed the subject and started to talk about his childhood in Hong Kong.

e. Try

There is a subtle difference between try + infinitive and try + gerund. Try +infinitive suggests that the action in the infinitive is difficult and the person may not be successful in doing that action:

Try to open the window. I can't because I'm not very strong and it has recently been painted.
He tried to climb the cliff.

However, try + gerund suggests that the action in the gerund is not difficult but we don't know if the consequence of that action will be what we want. We use try + gerund when we do something to discover what the consequence will be.

A: Phew! It's hot in here!
B: Try opening the window. Although it's probably just as hot outside!

f. Need

With the verb need, the infinitive has an active meaning and the gerund has a passive meaning.

e.g. I need to talk to you   means   I must talk to you.

e.g. My shoes need cleaning   means   My shoes need to be cleaned.

e.g. The car needed servicing 
  means   The car needed to be serviced.

to bear
: tolerate, put up with
to feed: give food to
to regret: feel sorry about something you have done
: while, in contrast


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