Gerunds and Infinitives: How Do You Choose?

I love grammar. I see grammar as this beautiful container for holding meaning. Without it, our important messages might get lost, and we don’t want that!

We want our words to have an impact.

We want our words to connect us with others and not leave our listeners or readers confused. With that in mind, I want to talk about gerunds today because they are an important component of English grammar.

When you think of gerund, what do you think of? If you enjoy grammar, you might know exactly what I am talking about. Or, maybe the concept is entirely new to you.

Let’s look at some examples and see if you can determine the gerund.

Examples of Gerunds

Presenting in front of large groups makes me nervous.

She gave up smoking years ago.

Writing content for the new website will take time.

Can you spot them?

They are the words that end in -ING. They look like progressive verbs, but they are not. They act like a noun in the sentence and are usually used to describe an activity, like

Skydiving  Texting Forgetting (even forgetting can be an activity!)

Does your native language have a grammatical designation to describe an activity? If not, this might be new for you. Because certain sentence formations require a gerund.

Why Do Gerunds Matter?

For example, when you have a preposition that needs a noun, you can use a noun or the gerund form of a verb. Take a look:

I get a lot of benefits from a healthy diet.

I get a lot of benefits from eating healthy.

The key is that if you are going to have something after a preposition, it has to either be a noun or a gerund (which acts like a noun).

Now, is there a difference in meaning between the two sentences? As a native speaker, I’d say there is a subtle difference. In the sentence with the gerund, I get the sense that the speaker is currently eating a healthy diet. The first sentence (I get a lot of benefits from a healthy diet.) seems more general. The person may or may not be eating healthy right now.

With gerunds, the emphasis is on the action.

There are also many verbs that can be followed by gerunds.

Examples include:

  • Avoid: She avoids eating meat.

  • Appreciate: My supervisor appreciates receiving feedback from employees.

  • Consider: Floreeda is considering traveling to Greece next week for the meeting.

  • Give up: Andrew gave up smoking last week, so he is a little cranky.

For a complete list of these verbs, google "verbs followed by gerunds," and you will discover many resources.

Now, we about about to move on, but I really enjoyed discussing gerunds with you!

Wait, did you spot the gerund in that sentence?

Yes, discussing is the gerund.

It would be incorrect to say I really enjoyed to discuss English. A listener or reader would understand your meaning, but it wouldn’t be grammatically correct. Correct grammar can give you an edge by helping others to see you as more professional and conscientious of details.

Back to our sentence: I really enjoyed discussing grammar. Why is the verb enjoyed followed by a gerund? Firstly, it’s in the category of verbs that are followed by gerunds.

But here is another reason: You are describing the activity of discussing, and remember gerunds can be activities (playing, writing, discussing).

But some verbs are followed by infinitives. An infinitive is the word to + the base verb.

Examples of Infinitives

Can you think of some examples?

Here are a few?

I need to discuss this with you.

The CEO plans to take the company public.

John offered to give us a ride to the meeting.

For what reason are infinitives used?

Here the focus isn’t on the activity but the intention. Sentences with verbs plus an infinitive often have two steps.

Let me explain. In the first sentence, there exists the need first and then the next step is to discuss it. The same is true for sentence #2. There is the plan and then the next step to take the company public. And, the same is true for #3, as well.

Contrast that with the gerund sentence. I enjoyed discussing that with you: The enjoyment and the discussion took place at the same time.

What other verbs can you think of that can be followed by infinitives?

Choose the verbs that you use the most and create a system for yourself to remember whether they can be followed by a gerund, an infinitive, or either one.

There is more to learn about gerunds and infinitives, but this is a good start. If you’d like to discuss how you can best learn the details of the English language to make more of an impact at work, let’s talk!

#gerunds #infinitives

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