Recognize When to Use Gerunds and Infinitives

Just a few questions before we get started:

  • What’s something you love doing?
  • What’s something you hope to learn in the next couple of years?
  • What are you looking forward to this weekend?

Personally, I love riding my bike. I hope to learn how to weave in the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to going to the beach with my friend tomorrow.

What do all of these questions have in common?

Well, for starters, they include some of the most commonly used verbs in the English language.

We’re always talking about things we like or love to do, things we plan to or hope to do, or things we are looking forward to doing!

The other thing that they have in common is that they use those tricky verb forms: gerunds and infinitives.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to get into the grammar rules of how to use gerunds or infinitives, but rather how you can use my tips to quickly recognize which form to use when you are speaking in English.

Because so many common verbs are used in combination with gerunds and infinitives, you are going to use them a lot, whether you like it or not!

You want to remember how to use them correctly to avoid calling attention to repeated mistakes.

For this reason, recognizing when to use gerunds and infinitives is one of my top tips for sounding more natural in English.

The good news is that there are simple ways to remember when to use the gerund or the infinitive.

(Quick review: the gerund is the -ing form of the verb, and the infinitive is “to” followed by the base form of the verb. For the verb “work,” the gerund is “working” and the infinitive is “to work.”)


Use Gerunds When Describing the Experience or the Full Activity

We use gerunds whenever we are expressing experience with the action described by the verb.

The gerund indicates the whole activity, which is why we use it in the go +ing structure used to describe fun activities.

We use the gerund in combination with verbs that signal previous experience with a certain action.

When someone exclaims, “I love cooking!” or “I hate cleaning the kitchen!”, they are expressing their past experience with this activity.

If you say, “I finished writing my report” you are describing the entire process of writing.

It’s something you’ve fully experienced – and now you’re done!

When someone quits smoking, they’ve quit the activity, not just the physical action.


Use Infinitives When Describing Just the Action or a Potential/Future Experience

On the other hand, we use infinitives when we are indicating a potential experience that we expect to have in the future.

In general, infinitives are used to describe just the action because we haven’t experienced it yet.

That’s why we use the infinitive in future phrases like plan to, expect to, want to, hope to, would like to, intend to, need to, and promise to.

What about verbs that can be used with both the gerund and the infinitive, such as like, love, hate, and don’t like?

Well, it depends on if you are talking about the whole experience and activity, or just the action.

If you say, “I like running,” you are describing the whole activity, such as planning a route, physically doing the action, and the feeling you get while moving your body.

If you say, “I like to run,” you’re usually just describing the physical action of putting one foot in front of another.

In general, I tell my students to choose the -ing form of the verb after those verbs, because they’re usually describing the whole experience.

If you’re accurate 90% of the time, that will definitely help you sound more natural in English.


Use Gerunds After Prepositions and Preposition Combinations

The other important tip to keep in mind when deciding whether to use the gerund or infinitive is that the gerund always follows preposition combinations (verbs followed by a preposition).

I repeat, the gerund always comes after a preposition.

This is why I said, “I’m looking forward to going to the beach.” In this case, “to” is being used in a preposition combination. Other super common preposition combinations?

  • apologize for
  • believe in
  • care about
  • complain about
  • dream about
  • think about

Just remember that these prepositions are always followed by the gerund, and you’re all set.

I strongly suggest reviewing preposition combinations because they are different in various languages.

For example, in Spanish, you say “dream with” but we say “dream about” in English!


Let’s Review

Don’t be intimidated by gerunds and infinitives! If you recognize situations when you should use gerunds and infinitives, you will choose the right form.

It’s important to use gerunds and infinitives correctly because they are super common in everyday speech and native speakers use them without thinking, just like articles. Improving your accuracy with gerunds and infinitives helps you sound more natural in English.

To review, here are the easy ways to recognize when to use gerunds and infinitives:

  • If you are describing experience with an action or activity, use the gerund.
  • If you are describing just the simple action or a potential action, use the infinitive.
  • If the verb is following a preposition, always use the gerund.

Your Turn

If you want more review on how to use gerunds and infinitives, here is a handy cheat sheet with charts. This post clearly categorizes common verbs used with the gerund/-ing.

This excellent video describes the confusing verbs that can be used with both the gerund and infinitive, but different meanings.

To show me that you now recognize when to use gerunds and infinitives, leave a comment below with three sentences:

  • one using a verb followed by the gerund
  • another using a verb followed by the infinitive, and
  • the last using a preposition combination.

I’ll let you know how you did!

Want to use grammar more naturally? Click here to explore my other resources on using grammar structures like a native speaker.

5 thoughts on “Recognize When to Use Gerunds and Infinitives”

  1. I usually read and listen the dialogs that Mrs.Kim, oftenly offers us, to learn with confident, enhance
    our skill in English naturally. So I’m, so thankful to her, for all her effort and knowledge in vocabulary and intonation., I use to practice and pay attention carefully every single word she keep talking,
    Thanks for your help Kim, I appreciated so much.-

    Miguel

    • Thanks for your comment, Miguel! I’m happy to hear that you’re learning so much from my resources. I appreciate your support!

  2. hi kim
    im so happy to have finally found a website like yours.
    I have a English exam tomorrow and I have gerunds and infinitives to study..
    the teacher said that the exercise is gonna be fill in the blanks with gerunds or infinitives but well have to mention why we used either of them so the teacher knows were actually basing our learning on a rule not on which one matches most.. thats why I was asking if you had a direct list of rules of when to use the gerunds and when to use the infinitives ??
    thanks again !!

    • I hope that all went well with your exam. This article summarizes the guidelines for how to use gerunds and infinitives. Here is the summary I share at the end:

      • If you are describing experience with an action or activity, use the gerund.
      • If you are describing just the simple action or a potential action, use the infinitive.
      • If the verb is following a preposition, always use the gerund.
  3. Super, super, super useful. If I ask myself the question is it expresing experience or just action, I can recognize whe to use one or the other. Thank you so much for this way of explanaining.

    From Güéjar Sierra, Granada, España.

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