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Author Topic: How gerunds and infinitives work  (Read 165 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: January 03, 2018, 10:28:20 PM »

Gerunds and infinitives are both verbals, or verb forms that don’t act as verbs, and one erroneous notion is that they’re freely interchangeable and mutually equivalent. This is because many verbs—“hate” and “talk,” for instance—can freely take either a gerund or infinitive form when working with some verbs to yield the same sense: “They began hating the highly touted candidate when he went public with his strange views.” “They began to hate the highly touted candidate when he went public with his strange views.”

Well, it just so happens that the verbals of “hate” behave that way when working with the verb “begin,” and that the verbals of “talk” do the same when working with “start.” But see what happens when we try putting the verb “keep” to work with the gerund and infinitive of “talk,” and the verb “regret” with those of “say.” We discover that “keep” and “regret” works perfectly with a gerund partner: “He kept talking in inconsequential terms, and later regretted saying precisely what he had in mind.” But they both balk and sound odd when made to work with the infinitive: “He kept to talk in inconsequential terms, and later regretted to say precisely what he had in mind.”


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Since gerunds and infinitives are definitely different and don’t work in exactly the same way, let’s clearly define and differentiate the two and look deeper into their uses.

The gerund, we will recall, is formed by adding “-ing” to the verb’s base form, as in “winning”; it always works as a noun, whether as subject, object, or object of a preposition. As subject: “Winning is our paramount goal.” As object: “She made winning an art form.” As object of the preposition: “They basked in the joy of winning.”

The infinitive, on the other hand, is formed by adding “to” to the verb’s base form, as in “to win”; it’s more versatile than the gerund because it can function not only as a noun but also as an adjective or adverb. As noun: “To win is our fondest hope.” As adjective: “She has an unhealthy obsession to win.” As adverb: “He never plays except to win.”

Gerunds and infinitives can work interchangeably and mean the same in the case of certain verbs that can take either of the two as a verbal direct object, like “attempt,” “begin,” “start,” “leave,” and “stop.” See how this interchangeability works: “People attempt to climb Mt. Everest during good weather.” “People attempt climbing Mt. Everest during good weather.” “A lot of people neglect to pay utility bills promptly.” “A lot of people neglect paying utility bills promptly.” The differences in shades of meaning between gerund-using and infinitive-using sentences, if any, are negligible.


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Some verbs, however, can only take the gerund as a verbal direct object, like “admit,” “advise,” “appreciate,” “anticipate,” and “consider.” See how the verb-gerund mechanism works: “She admitted taking the funds surreptitiously from the depositor’s account.” (The verb-infinitive combination doesn’t work: “She admitted to take the funds surreptitiously from the depositor’s account.”) “They considered commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment.” (The verb-infinitive combination doesn’t work either: “They considered to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment.”)

And then some verbs can only take the infinitive as a verbal direct object, like “agree,” “appear,” “arrange,” “ask,” and “care,” See how the verb-infinitive mechanism works: “We agreed to reimburse him for expenses.” (The verb-gerund combination doesn’t: “We agreed reimbursing him for expenses.”) “She cared to clean the premises while we were away.” (The verb-gerund combination doesn’t: “She cared cleaning the premises while we were away.”)

So when precisely do we use a gerund or infinitive? When do we say “She hates to fish” instead of “She hates fishing”? We’ll take up the ground rules next week.

This essay, 1073rd in the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the January 4, 2017 issue (print edition only) of The Manila Times, © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.



(Next week: Choosing between gerunds and infinitives)         January 11, 2018
« Last Edit: January 07, 2018, 12:29:49 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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