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Michigan TIPS, Issue #014 Infinitives or Gerunds?
February 07, 2012

Infinitives or Gerunds?

Depending on which grammar books you’ve used, you may find the infinitive taught on its own or in conjunction with the gerund.

In this issue of Michigan TIPS, I thought it best to include them both as a way for you to clear up any difficulties you may have had regarding these items. Whether to use the infinitive or gerund at this level of the language can sometimes be a bit confusing.


Full Infinitive (with ‘to’) 

1 expresses purpose.

I went there to see him. [NOT: for to see]
He tested it before buying it in order to make sure that it worked.
He left early in order not to be late. [NOT: early not to be …]

2 comes after the verb to be + the first / second, the last, etc.

You are to follow the instruction carefully.
Henry Ford was the first to mass produce cars.

3 comes after some adjectives: disappointed, happy, surprised, sorry, etc., instead of a time clause.

We were surprised to see (when we saw) them at the conference.
I was sorry to hear of your recent loss.

4 comes after only to express disappointment or annoyance.

I went to the post office only to discover that there was a strike.
I went to the mall only to find that my favorite store had closed.


Bare Infinitive (without ‘to’)

1 comes after hear, see, watch, feel, notice, observe, make, let, would rather, had better.

I heard Jim mention it.
Jim had better find a job soon or else.

BUT: see, hear, make + to, in the passive voice

Jim was heard to mention it.
Jim was seen to enter the building
Jim was made to clean his room

BUT: watch, observe, notice + present participle, in the passive voice

Mr Vajionas was noticed running down the street.
Mr Vajionas was observed running into the building.
Mr Vajionas was watched trimming the trees in his garden

2 comes after do anything / nothing / everything …but / except, etc.

He doesn’t do anything but sit around and watch TV all day.
She does nothing but complain all the time.

BUT: What he advised was (to) see a psychologist.

The only thing to do is (to) wait for them.
All John did was (to) change the washer.

NOTE: The children helped me (to) ready the classroom for the party.

3 comes after why in questions meaning it’s unnecessary or pointless to do something, or in questions making suggestions.

Why make such a big fuss about something so small?
Why not take a 10 minute break, and then do it? (suggestion)

Infinitives with prepositions

She had no one to talk to.
He found some paper to write his essay on.

Present infinitive / Perfect infinitive

He should / could / ought to / go to a doctor. (present / future time)
He could / might have / gone to a doctor. (past time)

Infinitive forms

present infinitive…

They ought to know the time.
I expect to be informed before they are told.
He appears to be suffering from dementia.

2 perfect infinitive…

They ought to have completed the road by now.
The politician is known to have been involved in the scandal.
They seem to have been practicing for hours.


She needs to have an operation on her jaw.
She appears to be having health problems again.
She is believed to have had a cyst removed.

The Gerund…

1 Swimming is wonderful exercise. (verb as noun, or, verbal noun)
2 They're keen on collecting old cars. (after certain prepositions)
3 After certain verbs and phrases such as…

admit (to)
have difficulty (in)
in addition to
be / get used to
it's no use / good
be / get accustomed to
it's not worth
be opposed to
can't help
look forward to
confess to
object to
propose (=suggest)
feel like
take to
there's no point (in)

* require a possessive adjective / object pronoun before the gerund.

Excuse me / my being so curious, but what language are you speaking?
Please forgive him / his leaving so early, but he has an engagement.
You can't prevent them (from) / their going out.
I don't understand you / your quitting school so close to the end.


I don't mind Jen / Jen's / her staying here.
We object to their dog / their dog’s / it / it’s barking all night.
I object to being told what to do by someone who hasn’t done it.


1 He used to train hard. (past habit)
He is used to training hard. (current condition)

[need,want, require+gerund has a passive meaning]

2 Your beard needs trimming.
The tire requires changing.
The house wants cleaning.

3 As well as buying the groceries, Sam cooked dinner. (rare but tested)

4 Infinitive or gerund can be used after the following verbs, without a change in meaning: like, love, hate, prefer, begin, start, continue

He hates to get / getting up so early on Sundays.
The radio began to play / playing on its own.

5 Infinitive or gerund can be used after the following verbs, BUT with a change in meaning: remember, forget, regret, stop, try

I remember locking the house. (remember doing)
I remembered to lock the car. (remember to do sth)
We tried to leave on time, but we were delayed. (attempt)
Why don’t you try rubbing some lotion on it? (experiment)


1 try + infinitive (attempt to do)

Try to sleep more at night . try + gerund (experiment)
Why don't you try sleeping during the day?

2 mean + infinitive (intend)

I didn't mean to hit you.
mean + gerund (involve)

It will mean getting up earlier this week.

3 go on + infinitive (finish one thing and start sth else)

The lecturer went on to talk about advertising on the Internet.

go on + gerund (continue doing sth)

The lecturer went on talking about advertising on the Internet.


The above should clarify how to use infinitives or gerunds. I'm working on adding more pages to my other site which will include free practice for these items.

Currently, you'll find plenty of useful information and exercises to help you improve your advanced English grammar at my other site.

Don't forget that essay writing help is only a couple of clicks away at Writing Proficiently.


Teaching + Inspiration + Practice = Success

Good learning everyone!

Till next time...



You'll find plenty of free exercises including phrasal verbs, modal verbs, and prepositions on my new Advanced English Grammar site.

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