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Welcome to this week's writing lesson from

 MyEnglishTeacher.net

To Infinitive And Beyond! 

Lesson Topic: Infinitives

To help the poor people of the world is a noble goal.

In the above sentence, which words form the infinitive?  To help.  An infinitive is the base form of a verb with to.  Here are some more infinitives:

To sleep
To wash
To love

An infinitive phrase is a group of words with an infinitive (it is NOT the whole sentence).  Again, looking at the above example, what is the infinitive phrase?  To help the poor people of the world.  

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Infinitives and infinitive phrases can be both subjects and objects in sentences.  Take a look at these examples:

SUBJECT  To study hard will increase your chances of getting into college.
OBJECT Kathy wants to study with her friends.

There are some verbs that are followed only by infinitives.  For example,

Hesitate She didn’t hesitate to tell the boss that some employees were stealing office supplies.
Offer The Martin Family offered to watch their neighbor’s dog for the whole week.
Promise The school promised to help me find an apartment.
Want We want to visit all of the historic sites in Tehran.

These words are rarely followed by gerunds (nouns that look like -ing ending verbs). 

For a list of verbs that are followed by infinitives, click here.  

For a list of adjectives followed by infinitives, click here.

For a list of verbs followed by infinitives + object, click here

For a list of verbs that are followed by gerunds, click here.    

Students are often confused about this.  When should I use infinitives?  When should I use gerunds?  There are some situations when BOTH an infinitive and gerund can be used with no change in meaning.  For example,

The children like to go to the zoo.
The children like going to the zoo.

These two sentences have the same meaning.

For some other verbs, there is a difference in meaning:

  Example Meaning
GERUND Louise stopped smoking. She doesn’t smoke anymore.
INFINITIVE Louise stopped to smoke. She stopped doing an activity because she wanted to smoke.

So, now you may want to ask, “What’s the difference between infinitives and gerunds?”  That’s a good question.  We are glad you asked!

Though there are always exceptions to the following, here are two suggestions that will help you distinguish the difference between infinitives and gerunds:

Suggestion #1

Infinitives are more often used to answer WHY-questions.  Look at the following conversation:

Louise:  I stopped.

Harry:  Why?

Louise:  I stopped to smoke.

The phrase in order to is often used in this situation.  Therefore, Louise could have said, “I stopped in order to smoke.”  In order to is also used to answer why-questions.  In order to is NEVER used with gerunds

CORRECT I stopped in order to smoke.
INCORRECT I stopped in order to smoking.

Gerunds are usually not used to answer why-questions.  Gerunds are nouns.  Gerunds directly receive actions (when in the object position) just like other nouns. 

I stopped the car.

I stopped the thief

I stopped smoking.

*the green words are all nouns

Suggestion #2

Infinitives in the subject position are often used for general or habitual actions.  Here are some examples: 

To live a happy life is everyone’s deepest desire.
To err is human, to forgive, divine.  (Shakespeare)
To fix a car requires a lot more than a screwdriver.

NOTE: All of these sentences can use gerunds (living a happy life is everyone’s deepest desire).     

When the action happened in the past, a gerund is usually used.

PAST ACTION Monika has studied German.
GERUND REFERRING TO PAST ACTION Studying German was easy for her.

This action happened in the past.  Therefore, use a gerund.  Using an infinitive to refer to a past action is not as common and natural as using a gerund.  

We highly recommend that you look at our lesson on gerunds.

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Quiz time

Directions: Read the sentences below.  Using the different lists of verbs and the two suggestions above, decide if the sentence should use an infinitive or a gerund.  Some sentences may use both.

To open ALL charts in 1 browser

For individual charts, click below

Verbs followed by Infinitives

Verbs followed by Gerunds

Verbs followed by Object + Infinitive

1.  (To marry/Marrying) a knight in shining armor is the dream of many girls. 

2.  I shudder (to think/thinking) that I almost lost everything in the stock market.

3.  We dislike (to drink/drinking) soda from a can.

4.  The problem has been fixed.  You may resume (to answer/answering) the telephones.

5.  Sharon volunteered (to help/helping) the student with his math.

6.  They studied at Beijing University.  (To study/Studying) at Beijing University was a dream come true.

7.  She paid the mechanic (to fix/fixing) the car.

8.  My wife reminded me (to go/going) to the doctor’s office today.

9.  I would like (to thank/thanking) everyone for this award.

10.  This store prohibits (to loiter/loitering) anywhere on the premises.

1.  To marry/Marrying a knight in shining armor is the dream of many girls. 

Both answers are possible.  See suggestion #2 above.

2.  I shudder to think that I almost lost everything in the stock market.

See chart “Verbs followed by Infinitives

3.  We dislike drinking soda from a can.

See chart “Verbs followed by Gerunds

4.  The problem has been fixed.  You may resume answering the telephones.

See chart “Verbs followed by Gerunds

5.  Sharon volunteered to help the student with his math.

See chart “Verbs followed by Infinitives

6.  They studied at Beijing University.  Studying at Beijing University was a dream come true.

Studying is more natural because it refers to a past action.  See suggestion #2 above.

7.  She paid the mechanic to fix the car.

See chart “Verbs followed by Object + Infinitive

8.  My wife reminded me to go to the doctor’s office today.

See chart “Verbs followed by Object + Infinitive

9.  I would like to thank everyone for this award.

See chart “Verbs followed by Infinitives

10.  This store prohibits loitering anywhere on the premises.

See chart “Verbs followed by Gerunds

 

  Rules to Remember!

1

Some verbs can be followed by both gerunds and infinitives with little or no change in meaning.

I love to eat hamburgers.

I love eating hamburgers.  

2

Some verbs can be followed by both gerunds and infinitives, but THERE IS A CHANGE IN MEANING.  The most common of these types of verbs are forget, quit, remember, and stop.

Bob forgot to watch that TV show. >> Bob didn’t watch the show because he forgot to watch it.

Bob forgot watching that TV show.  >> Bob watched the show, but he forgot that he watched it.  

***************************************

Christine quit to teach. >> Christine quit her first activity because she wanted to teach.

Christine quit teaching. >> Christine doesn’t teach anymore.  

***************************************

Joseph remembered to wash the dishes. >>  Joseph had stopped his first activity so he could go and wash the dishes.

Joseph remembered washing the dishes. >>  After Joseph finished washing the dishes, he remembered that he had already washed the dishes.  

***************************************

Lori stopped to exercise. >> Lori had stopped her first activity so that she could go and exercise.

Lori stopped exercising. >>  Lori stopped the activity of exercising.  

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