Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gerunds and Infinitives - the Introduction

To master using gerunds & infinitives, you either need an excellent memory or
you need to practice a lot. Either way, if you work on it, you'll eventually get a
better sense of which one sounds best, & with time, it will become second nature. 

Deciding whether to use gerunds (verb+ing) or infinitives (to + verb) is not always easy. English learners usually begin practicing this grammar point in the intermediate levels. Unfortunately, the rules are so specific to each verb or phrase and you have to remember whether a verb or phrase is followed by a gerund or an infinitive that even advanced students still find it TRICKY (challenging; tough).

Here are a couple of examples:

  • He ENJOYS SMOKING, but he doesn't WANT TO SMOKE when his parents are around.
  • (The verb ENJOY has to be followed by a gerund, while the verb WANT has to be followed by an infinitive. In other words, "enjoy to smoke" is wrong, and "want doing" is also wrong.)
  • She knows IT'S IMPORTANT TO SPEAK English in the classroom, but she CAN'T HELP SPEAKING Spanish because it's much easier and faster.
  • (The phrase "IT'S IMPORTANT" or "IT + BE + adjective" must be followed by an infinitive, while the verb CAN'T HELP must be followed by a gerund. Just like the first example, you can't say "It's important speaking" or "can't help to speak" because they are simply wrong.)

Sometimes, we just need the simple form of the verb, and we will cover this in future lessons. However, if a verb must be followed by a gerund or an infinitive, it's wrong to use the simple form.

Because ENJOYS can only be followed by a gerund, it's wrong to say "enjoys
to learn"
or "enjoys learn." Similarly, IT'S IMPORTANT must be followed by an
infinitive, so "It's important practicing" or "It's important practice" are both wrong.

There are lists, of course, of which verbs & phrases require a gerund and which ones require an infinitive. However, most teachers don't recommend simply memorizing these lists. The best way to learn and remember is by using English as much as you can, plain and simple. The more you read, listen, and watch, and the more you speak and write, the quicker your brain will pick up these structures and the faster you will get a sense of what sounds natural in English.

So we thought that it would be a great idea to do a series of lessons devoted to this topic. We think it will increase your chances of being exposed to sentences with gerunds and infinitives and help you learn the natural sounds of English. The more you ENCOUNTER (meet; see) them, the quicker you'll feel comfortable using them. So visit this blog often, and more importantly, practice as much as you can. Remember, the more you do it, the quicker you'll feel comfortable using gerunds and infinitives.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @NYLangCenter.

--Joe Yu, ESL instructor


  1. Students need to learn how to make that distinction. It is such an important part of becoming fluent in English. (need plus infinitive)

  2. Great lesson! I am looking forward to read the next one.

  3. Absolutely, Barbara. It's definitely crucial to mastering English. Understanding the concept is the first step, then practicing and being aware of the specific rules are key to eventually getting it.

    Anonymous, we're glad you're looking forward to checking out the next lesson. Stay tuned! :-)