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Infinitive and gerund constructions


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Infinitive and gerund constructions

Verbs which may take either infinitive or gerund

advise (see 267)  need

agree permit

allow prefer

begin propose

can/could bear recommend

cease regret

continue remember

forget require

hate start

intend stop (270 B)

like try (270 C)

love used to (270 D)

mean want

Note also be ashamed (of) / afraid (of) / sorry (for), 271;

care (for), 294, 295; go on, 270.

Verbs taking infinitive or gerund without change of meaning

begin, start, continue, cease
can't bear
advise, allow, permit, recommend
it needs/requires/wants

With begin, start, continue, cease either infinitive or gerund may be used without any difference in meaning, but the infinitive is more usual with verbs of knowing and understanding and the verb matter:

I began working. / I began to work.

He continued living / to live above the shop.


I am beginning to understand / see / realize why he acted as he did.

It ceased to matter whether or not he sold his work.

She never ceased complaining / to complain about prices.

After can/could bear (chiefly used in the negative) either gerund or infinitive can be used: I can't bear waiting/to wait; but when the infinitive refers to a deliberate action the expression implies that the subject's feelings prevent(ed) him from performing the action:

I couldn't bear to tell him. (so I didn't)

After intend, an infinitive:

I intend to sell it

is more usual than a gerund:

I intend selling it.

The infinitive is necessary when we have intend + object. This is found only in formal English:

I intend him to take over the department.

With advise, allow, permit, recommend

If the person concerned is mentioned we use the infinitive:

He advised me to apply at once.

She recommends housewives to buy the big tins.

They don't allow us to park here.

But if this person is not mentioned, the gerund is used:

He advised applying at once.

She recommends buying the big tins.

They don't allow parking.

The gerund after allow and permit cannot have an object, so if we want an allow/permit + verb + object construction, we must use the infinitive and mention the person concerned:

They allowed their tenants to use the garage.

it needs/requires/wants can be followed either by the gerund or by the passive infinitive, the gerund being the more usual:

The grass wants cutting or The grass needs to be cut.

regret, remember, forget

regret, remember, forget are used with a gerund when the action expressed by the gerund is the earlier action:

I regret spending so much money =

I'm sorry I spent so much money. (spending is the first action, regret is the second.)

I remember reading about the earthquake in the papers. (reading is the first action, remember is the second.)

remember can be followed by possessive adjective/object + gerund:

I remember his / him telling me about it.

I remember my father(s) telling me about it.

forget + gerund is possible only when forget is in the negative. It is often used after will never forget:

I'll never forget waiting for bombs to fall =

I'll always remember waiting for bombs to fall.

When regret, remember, forget themselves express the earlier action they are followed by an infinitive:

I regret to say that you have failed your exam. (regret is the first action, to say is the second.)

regret here is normally followed by a verb such as say, inform, tell. It is normally used only in the present tense.

remember can be used in any tense:

I'll remember to ring Bill. (remember is the earlier action.)

forget is used similarly:

I often forget to sign my cheques.

I remembered to lock / I didn't forget to lock the door. (I locked it.) Conversely:

I didn't remember / I  forgot to lock it. (I didn't lock it.)

regret, remember, forget can also be followed by a noun/pronoun or a that‑clause.

remember and forget can also be followed by noun clauses beginning how, why, when, where, who etc.:

I can't remember when I saw him last.

I've forgotten where I put it.

agree/agree to, mean, propose

agree and agree to (preposition)

agree takes the infinitive. It is the opposite of refuse + infinitive:

When I asked them to wait, Tom agreed to wait a week but Bill refused to wait another day.

agree cannot take a noun/pronoun object. The opposite of refuse + object is accept + object:

He refused any reward. She accepted the post.

agree to (preposition) can be followed by possessive adjective + gerund:

He agreed to my leaving early on Friday. (I asked if I could leave early on Friday and he said that I could. The opposite here would be He wouldn't agree to my leaving early etc.)

agree to can be followed by noun/pronoun object:

He agreed to the change of plan / to this / to that.

mean meaning 'intend' takes the infinitive:

I mean to get to the top by sunrise.

mean meaning 'involve' (used only with an impersonal subject) takes the gerund:

He is determined to get a seat even if it means standing in a queue all .

propose meaning 'intend' usually takes the infinitive:

I propose to start tomorrow.

propose meaning 'suggest' takes the gerund:

I propose waiting till the police get here.

(For propose + that . . . should, see 289.)

go on, stop, try, used (to)

go on = 'continue' and is normally followed by a gerund. But it is used with an infinitive, usually of a verb like explain, talk, tell, when the speaker continues talking about the same topic but introduces a new  aspect of it:

He began by showing us where the island was and went on to tell us about its climate.

Compare He went on talking about his accident, which implies that he had been talking about it before, with He went on to talk about his accident, which implies that he had been speaking perhaps about himself or his journey but that the accident was being introduced for the first time.

stop (= cease) is followed by the gerund: Stop talking.

It can be followed by object + gerund:

I can't stop him talking to the press.

A possessive adjective would be possible here but is very seldom used.

stop (= halt) can be followed by an infinitive of purpose:

I stopped to ask the way. (I stopped in order to ask the way.)

try usually means 'attempt' and is followed by the infinitive:

They tried to put wire netting all round the garden. (They attempted to do this.)

The sentence doesn't tell us whether they succeeded or not.

try can also mean 'make the experiment' and is then followed by the gerund:

They tried putting wire netting all round the garden.

This means that they put wire netting round the garden to see if it would solve their problem (presumably they were trying to keep out rabbits and foxes). We know that they succeeded in performing the main action; what we don't know is whether this action had the desired effect, i.e. kept the foxes out.

Subject + used + infinitive expresses a past habit or routine:

I used to swim all the year round. (At one time I swam all the year   round.) (See 162.)

But subject + be/become/get + used + to (preposition) is followed by noun or pronoun or gerund and means 'be/become/get accustomed (to) 1:

I am used to heat / to living in a hot climate. (I have lived in a hot climate for some time so I don't mind it.) (See 163.)

be afraid (of), be sorry (for), be ashamed (of)

be afraid of + gerund or gerund + noun/pronoun

Here the gerund usually expresses an action which the subject fears may . It is normally an involuntary action:

He never swam far out. He was afraid of getting cramp.

She avoids lonely streets. She is afraid of being mugged.

She didn't tell him because she was afraid of upsetting him.

be afraid + infinitive means that the subject is/was etc. too frightened to perform the action. ' This is obviously a deliberate action:

He was afraid to jump. (so he didn't jump)

She was afraid to protest. (so she kept quiet)

be afraid can also be followed by a that‑clause. This can express a fear:

Iím afraid (that) he'll blame me for this.

But, especially in the first person, it can express (usually fairly mild) regret:

Iím afraid (that) we haven't any tickets left.

(For Iím afraid so/not, see 347.)

be sorry for + gerund means 'apologize /regret'. The gerund usually refers to a previous action but can refer to an immediately following action:

Iím sorry for making such a noise last night.

Iím sorry for disturbing you. (now)

But I 'm sorry to disturb you would be more usual here.

be sorry + infinitive can express regret or sadness:

I'm sorry to hear that you've been ill. (See also 26 F.)

When the action expressed by the infinitive is involuntary, the two actions are almost simultaneous:

I was sorry to see him looking so ill. (When I saw him . . . I was sorry.)

When the infinitive refers to a deliberate action, be sorry is the earlier of the two actions and is then very similar to regret (see 268 B):

Iím sorry to inform you that there has been an accident.

be sorry that . . . is also possible. Note that I'm sorry that usually expresses genuine regret, but that with I'm sorry to say that or I'm afraid that the regret may be very faint, even perfunctory.

be ashamed of + gerund or be ashamed of yourself etc. for + gerund

The gerund here refers to a previous action:

You should be ashamed of lying to him or

You should be ashamed of yourself for lying to him.

In be ashamed + infinitive, the infinitive usually refers to a subsequent action:

I'm ashamed to tell you what this carpet cost.

would be ashamed + infinitive often implies that the subject's feeling' (will) prevent him from performing the action:

I'd be ashamed to ask for help. (so I won't/wouldn't ask)


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