Infinitives and Gerunds in English

infinitives and gerunds

When you were first learning English, you probably used infinitives and gerunds interchangeably, and didn’t even notice. That’s because you often can.

It is correct to say both, ‘I like to walk to work’, and ‘I like walking to work’.

But somewhere along the way, you began to notice a problem, and started having doubts. Why is it correct to say ‘I want to learn’, but incorrect to say ‘I want learning’?

Let’s learn about this today.

First, we need to learn some grammar terms.

Infinitives and gerunds are verb forms.

An infinitive is TO + the basic form of a verb.

We want TO EAT healthy food.
I like TO BE outdoors.

A gerund is a verb + ing.

We avoid USING pesticides in our garden.
I like BEING outdoors.

Why do we use gerunds and infinitives?
We use infinitives and gerunds to turn verbs into nouns.

In the sentence, ‘we eat healthy food’, what is the verb?
In the sentence, ‘we want to eat healthy food’, what is the verb?

When we say we that ‘want’ something, or that we ‘want’ to do something, that next word isn’t a verb anymore. It’s a concept. In the example, the verb ‘eat’ has used an infinitive to change from a verb to a thing.

Let’s think of a few verbs and try turning them into nouns, using both gerunds and infinitives.

Notice! Gerunds are different from the Present Continuous!
Review the Present Continuous to see how the form and usage is different.

How do we to know when to use an infinitive or a gerund, or either?

Here are the best rules to follow:

1.) Many verbs can take both the infinite or gerund form after them.

Example 1 – Prefer

Shoppers prefer to bring their own bags.
Shoppers prefer bringing their own bags.

Example 2 – Like

My sister likes to buy organic products. (She prefers organic over other options.)
My sister likes buying organic products. (She enjoys shopping for organic products.)

2.) Some verbs can only be followed by the infinitive form.

Example 1 – Promise

Correct: We promise to be more careful in the future.
Incorrect: We promise being more careful in the future.

Example 2 – Want

Correct: Do you want politicians to make the environment a priority?
Incorrect: Do you want politicians making the environment a priority?

Ten more common ones are:


3.) Some verbs can only be followed by the gerund.

Example 1- Suggest

Correct: The guide suggested fishing early in the morning.
Incorrect: The guide suggested to fish early in the morning.

Example 2 – Enjoy

Correct: People enjoy walking along the river.
Incorrect: People enjoy to walk along the river.

Ten more common ones are:


4.) Use a gerund after a preposition (except the prepositions ‘but’ and ‘except’).

I agree WITH using to use solar panels.
Thanks FOR helping to help us.
The neighbours are thinking OF starting to start a club.

This means that when you want to change a verb into a noun after a phrasal verb, you will want to use a gerund.

5.) Some verbs can use either a gerund or an infinitive, but the meaning changes.

Stop –
We stopped to water the plants. (We stopped doing another activity, in order to give the plant water.)
We stopped watering the plants. (We don’t water the plants anymore. We stopped doing this.)

Try –
We will try to use organic cleaning products. (We are motivated, and we will attempt to engage in this.)
We will try using organic cleaning products. (We will experiment with this, for the experience.)

Remember –
Do your grandparents remember to drink from the river? (Are they consistently drinking from the river, because they remember to do it?)
Do your grandparents remember drinking from the river? (Do they have a memory of doing this?)

Forget –
People forget to separate their recycling. (People don’t remember to do it, day to day.)
People forget separating their recycling. (People don’t remember a time when this was done.)

Help –
Frank helped me to buy cute, reusable straws as gifts. (He assisted me with the purchase.)
Frank couldn’t help buying cute, reusable straws as gifts. (He was unable to resist making the purchase.)

Go on –
My classmate went on to be a successful entrepreneur. (She became an entrepreneur.)
My roommate went on being a successful entrepreneur. (She continued to be an entrepreneur.)

Try the general quiz

Practice with flashcards

Try the infinitive or gerund in context quiz – A C1-C2 level quiz on the topic of unions

Select a lesson plan that refers to infinitives and gerunds: