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Author Topic: Playing it by ear when to use a gerund or infinitive  (Read 237 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: August 23, 2017, 08:32:42 AM »

A Facebook friend of mine, Espie Corpuz, posted this grammar request on my Forum’s Facebook Gateway sometime ago: “Please discuss for everyone which is correct: (1) ‘I’m looking forward to meeting my old buddy again’ or (2) ‘I’m looking forward to meet my buddy again.’” Since the request touches on a very instructive aspect of English grammar, I am taking this opportunity to elaborate on the rather abbreviated reply I’ve given Espie on Facebook.

Both of the sentences presented by Espie are grammatically correct and have practically the same sense. Functionally, though, the gerund phrase “meeting my old buddy again” in Sentence 1 is the object of the preposition “to,” through which that gerund phrase indirectly receives the action of the phrasal verb “looking forward.” On the other hand, the infinitive phrase “to meet my buddy again” in Sentence 2 is the direct object of that same phrasal verb.


Recall now that both the gerund and infinitive are verbals or verb forms that function as nouns, which means that each can serve as subject, object, or complement in a sentence. In performing these functions, however, gerunds and infinitives are not freely interchangeable and mutually equivalent. In particular, some operative verbs can take either a gerund or infinitive as direct object, but other verbs balk and just won’t take an infinitive as direct object.

For instance, a sentence that has “continue” as operative verb can have either a gerund phrase or infinitive phrase as direct object (or as object of the preposition). Consider this sentence: “They continued paying for her tuition without letup.” The gerund phrase “paying for her tuition without letup” works without any hitch as direct object of the verb “continued,” but so does its infinitive phrase equivalent “to pay for her tuition without letup” in the sentence “They continued to pay for her tuition without letup.” Take note that both sentences have the same sense, too.

Like “continue,” the following operative verbs can also take either a gerund phrase or infinitive phrase as direct object: “attempt,” “begin,” “start,” “leave,” “stop,” “continue,” “love,” “like,” “dislike,” “hate,” “remember,” “forget,” “neglect,” “regret,” “intend,” “plan,” “permit,” “plan,” “prefer,” “propose,” “try,” and “mean.” This can be verified by using them as operative verbs of sentences with different sets of gerund phrases or infinitive phrases as direct object. (Do that as an exercise now to sharpen your sense for this functional duality.)

In contrast, there are some operative verbs that can only take a gerund or gerund phrase—never an infinitive or infinitive phrase—as direct object. Among them are “admit,” “advise,” “appreciate,” “anticipate,” “avoid,” “consider,” “delay,” “deny,” “discuss,” “enjoy,” “excuse,” “finish,” “keep,” “mind,” “miss,” “postpone,” “practice,” “quit,” “recall,” “recommend,” “regret,” “resent,” “resist,” “resume,” “risk,” “tolerate,” “try,” “understand,” and “imagine.”

Take “anticipate” as operative verb, for instance. It works perfectly with the gerund phrase “receiving the next shipment in a week” as direct object” in the sentence “We anticipate receiving the next shipment in a week,” but makes an epic fail with the equivalent infinitive phrase in the sentence “We anticipate to receive the next shipment in a week.”

When used as operative verb, “consider” also encounters the same problem. It works perfectly with the gerund phrase “taking a short-cut to their destination” as direct object in the sentence “They considered taking a short-cut to their destination,” but likewise makes an epic fail with the equivalent infinitive phrase in “They considered to take a short-cut to their destination.”

Now the big question is this: Is there a known formula for finding out whether a gerund phrase or infinitive phrase will function properly as direct object of a particular operative verb? Other than a good working knowledge of how gerunds and infinitives work in sentences, there’s actually no simple ground rule for that. We just have to play it by ear when we construct sentences using specific operative verbs. (2014)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the June 6, 2014 issue of The Manila Times, © 2014 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2017, 08:49:23 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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