Gerunds and Infinitives

Everything you ever wanted to know about

Gerunds and Infinitives.

“To be or not to be, that is the question”

In this guide to use gerunds and infinitives we will look at what gerunds and infinitives are, then have a look at the basic rules. Next we need to look at which verbs we use with a gerund and which we use with an infinitive. Finally we’ll have a look at some tricky verbs that can mean different things when used with gerunds and infinitives.

Contents

What are gerunds and infinitives?

Let’s have a look at the 3 verb forms that we are talking about. We’ll use the example of the verb “to be” but most verbs have these 3 forms.

What is a gerund?

The gerund is a verb form that finishes in “ing“, such as;

Being

BE CAREFUL! This doesn’t mean that it’s an action on progress, this is not a continuous tense.

What is an infinitive?

The infinitive is a verb form that is like the verb’s name.

To Be

Infinitives without “to”?

Sometimes we need an infinitive without its “to”;

Be


Why do we need to know what Gerunds & Infinitives are?

Well, sometimes we need to use one form or the other. If you use the wrong form it will sound wrong but more importantly, could even change the meaning of what you are saying or hearing! These are the main rules. Click on a rule to see more detail and examples.

The Basic Rules

Use a gerundUse an infinitiveUse an infinitive without “to”
After prepositionsAfter adjectivesAfter modal verbs
As the subject or object of a phraseFor motive or purpose
After question words and indefinite pronouns.
After some verbsAfter some verbsAfter some verbs
The basic rules of when to use a gerund and when to use an infinitive.

Download the cheat sheet Reference chart!

A downloadable smartphone-friendly quick reference guide to gerunds and infinitives / verb forms in English grammar.

Just right click and “save as” to download this free mobile phone-friendly reference guide!

Take the Test!

If you think that you can remember the basic rules take this interactive test. For more details, keep reading!

And that’s it. (Almost!)

Let’s have a look at those rules in a bit more detail!

Gerunds after Prepositions.

Prepositions are words like

in, at, on, for, after

If you use a verb after a preposition, the verb needs to be in the gerund form:

“She’s good at singing.”

“It’s for cleaning shoes.”

“We’re talking about getting married.”

Gerunds as subjects or objects.

We can use verbs just like nouns. They can be the subject or the object of a sentence. So just like we can say that:

“Water is good for you.”

We can substitute the noun “water” for a verb in noun form and say that:

Swimming is good for you.”

Other examples of the verb in the gerund form as subjects or objects could be:

Worrying doesn’t make things better.”

One of my favourite things is hearing music played live.”

“The part of his job that he likes most is meeting clients.”

Learning a new language creates new opportunities.”

Gerunds after some verbs.

This is the first difficult part. Some verbs always use a gerund as the form of the next verb.

Look at this example. If the verb “suggest” has a verb after it, that verb must be a gerund;

“She suggested going for a walk.”

How do you know which verbs are followed with a gerund?

Well, you can learn from lists but there’s no substitute for practice. When you read or listen to English you will become accustomed to what sounds right and what sounds wrong. Let experience and intuition guide you.

Here is a list of some common verbs that are followed by a verb in the gerund.

  • Admit
  • Avoid
  • Be worth
  • Can’t help
  • Can’t stand
  • Carry on
  • Deny
  • Enjoy

  • Feel like
  • Finish
  • Give up
  • Keep on
  • Look forward to
  • Imagine
  • Mind
  • Miss
  • Postpone
  • Practise
  • recommend
  • Regret
  • Risk
  • Spend
  • Stop
  • Suggest

What do you enjoy doing at the weekend? Is there anything you regret saying? How do you practise speaking English?

One of the best ways to learn these verb forms is in conversation. Try using the gerunds and infinitives conversation topic.

Do you know which verbs are followed by a gerund and which are followed by an infinitive? Practice daily with this training game to master this topic!

Take the “Gerunds & Infinitives Verbs Challenge. See how many questions you can get right in 2 minutes! Compete with other students to see who is the master of this topic.

Because gerunds and infinitives appear everywhere, you can hear them in lots of famous songs, check out some examples in this gerunds and infinitives in music blog post.

When to Use Infinitives

We use infinitives

All of these uses are described in detail with examples below.

Infinitives after adjectives

If we use a verb after an adjective, that verb has to be in the infinitive form.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

“I was surprised to hear that I had won!”

“He was the first to arrive.”

Infinitives for motive or purpose.

If you want to say why you do something, just use an infinitive. Whenever describing a motive or a purpose, we use an infinitive.

“I went to the shop to get some milk.”

He works at weekends to earn some extra money.”

She is learning English to travel.

Infinitives after question words & indefinite pronouns.

“I didn’t know what to do.

“He doesn’t have anything to eat.

Infinitives after some verbs.

If some verbs are followed by another verb, that verb must be in the infinitive form (to ___). There isn’t really anything about these verbs that indicate that they need to be followed by an infinitive. The best way to learn which verbs need to be followed by an infinitive is to read, listen to and speak English

“I need to go to the shop.”

“I’m planning to retire.

  • Afford
  • Agree
  • Appear
  • Arrange
  • Be able
  • Can’t wait
  • Choose
  • decide
  • Deserve
  • Expect

  • Happen
  • Help
  • Hesitate
  • Hope
  • learn
  • Make
  • Manage
  • Offer
  • Plan
  • Pretend
  • Promise
  • refuse
  • seem
  • teach
  • tend
  • threaten
  • Want
  • Would like

Do you think you can remember which verbs are followed with a gerund and which with an infinitive?

Try the gerunds and infinitives challenge, see if you can beat the high scores!

Infinitive without “to” after modal verbs, make and let.

Modal verbs are verbs like “can”, “must”, “should”. They are the same for all persons (I can, you can, he can). If they are followed by a verb, the verb takes the bare infinitive form (infinitive without “to”.

“I can swim.”

“We must do it.”

“We ought to call him.”

There are two verbs that aren’t modal verbs but that we have to treat the same as modal verbs in this context. They are;

Make & Let

“His boss makes him work late .”

“Her parent’s won’t let her go to the party.”

And that’s the basics! Can you remember it all?

Try the Gerunds and Infinitives Basic Rules Quiz to find out!

If you want to practice which verbs are followed by gerunds and which by infinitives try this quiz. Try the Gerunds and Infinitives Verbs Challenge, see how many points you can score in just 2 minutes!

If you think that you’re ready to look at some exceptions and complication then let’s move on to Tricky Verbs with Gerunds and Infinitives.

Verbs that can be Followed by Gerunds and Infinitives

Some verbs can take the gerund OR the infinitive, but with different meanings, which makes them particularly tricky. Look out for these verbs in tests!

  • Try
  • Remember / forget
  • Stop
  • Go on
  • Regret
  • Need
  • Start

Try

  • Try + gerund means that something is easy to to and may or may not have the desired effect, it’s like experimenting with something.
    • “If you have a headache try taking an Ibuprofen, it might help.
    • “If the recipe is too bland for you try adding spicy pepper.”

  • Try + infinitive means that something is difficult or impossible to do and takes some effort or skill.
    • “Try to run a mile in less than four minutes”
    • “Trying to memorise lists of verbs isn’t the most effective way to learn gerunds and infinitives, you need context and meaning for things to be memorable.”

Remember / Forget

These verbs both work in the same way, so they are grouped together here.

  • Remember or forget + gerund refers to a memory or recollection of a past event.
    • “I will never forget seeing her for the first time.”
    • “I remember seeing this film years ago when it was on at the cinema.”

  • Remember or forget + infinitive refers to an obligation;
    • “Don’t forget to turn off the light when you leave.”
    • “Remember to book the table for the restaurant tonight.”

Stop

  • Stop + gerund means to stop the action or state described by the verb after stop. (Parar de hacer algo);
    • “Your chest sounds terrible, you should stop smoking.”
    • “He was falling asleep so had to stop working and go to bed.”

  • Stop + infinitive means to stop for the reason described by the verb after stop. (parar para hacer algo);
    • “Before you answer stop to think about the question.”
    • “He was falling asleep so stopped to rest.”

Go on

  • Go on + gerund means to continue the activity described by the verb after go on;
    • “We will have to go on working until the project is finished.”
    • “She went on talking even though nobody was listening.”

  • Go on + infinitive means to subsequently do something;
    • “The young student went on to become one of the most important scientists in the world.”
    • “When I finish my degree I will go on to do a masters.”

Regret

  • Regret + gerund refers to a memory of something in the past that you now think was not desirable;
    • “As soon as he turned the page of the exam he regretted not studying / regretted not having studied.” (note the use of “have” to express a past action using a gerund.)
    • “I regret telling her how I felt, she said that she didn’t feel the same and now I feel foolish.”

  • Regret + Infinitive is a form that we use when giving bad news;
    • “I regret to inform you that your credit card payment has been declined.”
    • “We regret to inform you that the 5:10 train to Wolverhampton will be delayed.”

Need

We can use the verb need with an infinitive to talk about something that is necessary in a normal active sentence;

“I need to paint my house.”

There is a form of the passive voice where we use need followed by a gerund to say that something requires something to be done;

“My house needs painting.”

Which is another way of saying that;

“My house needs to be painted.”

Start

  • The verb “Start” can be followed by a gerund or an infinitve with NO difference in meaning;
    • “It started to rain.”
    • “It started raining.”

Use this Tricky Verbs with Gerunds and Infinitives to check that you’ve understood!

Using Perfect Gerunds & Infinitives to Talk about the Past

I remember having seen this film before.

He denied having stolen the money.

He admitted (to) having lied.

He is believed to have disappeared.

He claims to have seen the robbery.

Gerunds & Infinitives Tests

Check out these interactive quizzes to make sure that you understand this topic. There is even a challenging training game that you can play every day to help you dominate which forms to use with which verbs.