Choosing Between Participle or “to” with an Infinitive
Quite a number of readers of this newsletters have asked me to explain how you can know when to use “to” and the infinitive or a participle with “-ing.”
Jfyi, in technical terms the -ing construction is called gerund.
If you look up this problem in a grammar book or on the internet, you’ll find pages and pages about it, and there is a chance that when you finish reading you’ll still be confused. My aim is to explain it in the simplest way possible.
Note: this article talks only about infinitives and participles after a verb.
Here are three tips to think about:
1 I love dancing and I love to dance basically mean the same.
You may be surprised when you read this, but it’s really true. Have a look at the following examples that also mean the same.
You like swimming means the same as you like to swim.
He loves to play the piano. = He loves playing the piano.
She likes reading in bed. = She likes to read in bed.
I hate cleaning my room. = I hate to clean my room.
We prefer to shop at the mall. = We prefer shopping at the mall.
In these examples, the word with “–ing” is the participle (dancing, swimming, reading).
The sentence with “to” have the full verb (dance, swim, read), which is called the infinitive.
2 When you’re thinking of going to do something, you can only use “to” plus the infinitive.
In other words, when you have an intention to do something. For instance I can say I intend or I plan to get up at 7 tomorrow.
So in other words, after verbs that express a plan or a wish you can only use “to” (plus the infinitive).
Some more examples:
Do you want to learn to speak English?
They would like to speak English.
They intend to go to University.
They plan to go on a picnic.
You should remember to set your alarm clock.
3 There are a bunch of verbs that can only be used with “to” and there are others that only take “-ing.”
So that means if you have a verb that can only take -ing, you can’t use it with to.
And vice versa, if you have a verb that can only take to, you may not use it with -ing.
Verbs with “–ing:”
enjoy: We enjoy going out together. (Not: We enjoy to go out together.)
keep: The teacher keeps telling us that we need to study harder. (Not: The teacher keeps to tell us…)
dislike: I dislike wearing my glasses.
discuss: The team discussed introducing flextimes.
Verbs with “to:”
intend: Vanna intends to travel to Portugal this August.
plan: The Wintersons plan to move to Wyoming.
appear: His son appeared to grow very quickly.
ask: My colleague asked me to write a reference letter.
There are more of these verbs.
How can you remember all those exceptions? You can’t. You just need to read and listen to English until the most common combinations are automatic. But at least this explanation will help you in many cases.
Choose between “to” and the infinitive or a participle with “-ing.” In some cases, both are possible.
Example: We waited in line _________ (buy) a movie ticket.
Answer: We waited in line to buy a movie ticket. (Someone is going to do something so only “to” plus the infinitive is possible.
1 I’d like ____________ (order) the steak.
2 I must remind Benni __________ (water) the plants.
3 You mustn’t forget ___________ (switch) off the computer before you leave.
4 We plan ___________ (rent) a cottage in Wales for the last two weeks of August.
5 I regret __________ (tell) you that our meeting has been cancelled.
6 He loves ___________ (go) surfing.
7 Alistair likes _________ (buy) his suits at John Lewis.
8 We hope _________ (meet) the deadline on this difficult project.
9 Do you dislike __________ (drive) at night?
10 I proposed ___________ (pay) for our lunch.
11 John and Mary discussed ___________ (get) married on the back of an elephant.
12 I am going __________ (go) to the supermarket now, so if you need anything…
If you have any questions about your answers in the quiz, leave a comment.