Verbs followed by '-ing' or by 'to' + infinitive 1

Do you know when to use -ing and when to use to + infinitive after a verb?

Look at these examples to see how the verb forms are used.

I enjoy learning languages.
I want to learn a new language.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Verbs followed by '-ing' or by 'to' + infinitive 1: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

A verb can be followed by another verb. The second one usually needs to change into the -ing form or the to + infinitive form. Which form you need depends on what the first verb is.

Verbs followed by the -ing form

When enjoy, admit and mind are followed by another verb, it must be in the -ing form.

I enjoy travelling.
He admitted stealing the necklace.
I don't mind waiting if you're busy.

Other verbs in this group include avoid, can't help, consider, dislike, feel like, finish, give up, miss, practise and suggest.

Like and love can be followed by the -ing form and the to + infinitive form. They are both correct.

Verbs followed by to + infinitive form

When want, learn and offer are followed by another verb, it must be in the to + infinitive form.

I want to speak to the manager.
She's learning to play the piano.
He offered to help us wash up.

Other verbs in this group include afford, agree, ask, choose, decide, expect, hope, plan, prepare, promise, refuse and would like.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Verbs followed by '-ing' or by 'to' + infinitive' 1: Grammar test 2

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Hello, may I clarify if the following are the same?
1) Mother said I can choose to go anywhere this summer.
2) Mother said I can choose anywhere to go this summer.

I would think 1 is correct from the rule verb + to + infinitive. But I've heard 2 being used before. I would like to clarify if 1 is more grammatically correct. Thank you!

Hello KaikaiSG,

I'm not sure what rule you mean here. Some verbs are followed by to + infinitive but that does not mean other words (adverbs, for example) cannot appear in the phrase.

As far as your examples go, both sentences are fine but I think there is a slight difference in meaning:

  • In the first sentence the implication is that you can choose to go anywhere or not to go anywhere; in other words, the choice is about going or not.
  • In the second sentence the implication is that you are going somewhere and can choose the destination; in other words, the choice is about where, not whether you will go.

The difference is really one of emphasis and will depend upon the context, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,

Apologies for the confusion!

The rule I mentioned was in the section "Verbs followed by to + infinitive form" of the article. In it, it was written that after certain verbs like choose, the to + infinitive must be used, for e.g. "choose to go".

I wasn't certain at that time if this structure (verb + to + infinitive) is "fixed" and if indefinite pronouns like "anywhere" can be placed in between the verb and the to + infinitive.

From your explanation, I understand that both sentences are grammatical correct, just that the emphasis is different. Thank you for your clear explanation!

Kai

Hi, I have a question regarding this sentence: "Everything I did to not hurt you failed"
Is it correct to use "to not" in this example and if so can you help explaining it?
It's feel weird to replace "to not" with "not to" in this example.

Hello tomeo,

The sentence is correct.

Here, 'to not hurt you' means 'in order not to hurt you' or 'to avoid hurting you'. It's an uncommon construction but perfectly grammatical.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello tomeo,

I wouldn't say it's incorrect but certainly the normal word order is 'to not + verb'.

Generally, we use 'not to + verb' when we are going to follow up with the real motivation: I did it not to annoy you but to help you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I enjoy doing such exercises but I have to watch out because sometimes I confuse the forms.

HellHello, British Council Team,

We all know that "imagine" is always followed by an "-ing" verb or "object + -ing" or "that-clause" or "as".

However, in some dictionaries like the online Oxford dictionary or Macmillan, I see "imagine" can also be used with "object + to be/do".

E.g.: "I had imagined her to be older than that." or "they imagine the company to be bigger than it is."

Could you please explain to me how/when "imagine" is used in this way? Is this use common or considered "standard English"? Should we use "imagine" this way or stick to its normal use?

Thank you, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Hieu Nguyen

Thank you, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Hieu Nguyen

Hello Hieu Nguyen,

The construction 'imagine SB/STH to verb' is standard English and expresses a belief which is held (present) or was held and is no longer (past):

> Having heard his voice, I imagine him to be a large man in his fifties.

> I imagined him to be a large man in his fifties, so imagine my surprise when I found out he was a schoolboy only 17 years old!

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr. Peter,

Thank you for your answer!

I'm still a bit confused about the use of "Imagine + (obj) + V-ing" and "Imagine sb/sth to V", as in:

> I couldn't imagine (her) living in that condition, and:

> I imagined to be a large man in his fifties,...

One more thing, is the structure "imagine sb/sth to verb" widely used or do native speakers have a more common way to express the idea (like using the verbs "believe", "think", "in my opinion", etc)?

Hieu Nguyen

Hello again Hieu Nguyen,

Let's look at them in turn,

1) imagine + SB + verbing
"I imagine him working late in the evening."
> This describes the image I have in my head. It's similar to 'I picture him...' or 'I visualise him...'

2) imagine + SB + to verb
"I imagine him to work late in the evening."
> This describes a supposition or a belief. It's similar to 'I think he's the kind of person who...'

As to whether (2) is a common structure, I think it's quite hard to say. Perhaps in everyday speech phrases like 'He's probably the kind of person who...'. 'I bet he usually...', 'I think he probably...' and so on will be more common but it really depends on a lot of variables such as who is speaking, to whom, in what context etc.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please explain to me why we use gerund after some verbs and to + infinitive after some verbs? What is the reason for that, why do not we use these structures interchangeably? And finally, what is the difference between the following two sentences? Please explain them in detail. 1.I love to watch movies. 2.I love watching movies.

Hello Mussorie,

I'm afraid there is no easily explained reason for this, nor is there an easy rule to learn that will apply to multiple verbs. I think the best thing you can do is learn such reporting verbs in groups according to their patterns. You can find more detailed lists in the Verb patterns pages in our English Grammar section.

'love', for example, is one of a group of words that can be followed by both 'to + infinitive' or '-ing'. Generally, the '-ing' form puts more emphasis on the experience and the 'to + infinitive' more on the results of an action. You can see some examples in the Cambridge Dictionary grammar.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Ok, I got your answer, sir. But act and behave are similar in their meaning. How for one verb is this structure possible, not for another? Sometimes it is confusing to identify such verbs. How can we overcome this problem with other kinds of verbs and how can we identify whether a verb follows an adjective or an adverb. Could you please give some information or technique to identify those?

Hello Mussorie,

I can't think of any rule for this, I'm afraid. Act is a verb with two different (if related) meanings: pretend and perform. Behave has only one meaning. I think act is an unusual word in this regard; the majoriry of similar words act like behave.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please explain to me the following? Sometimes it is confusing with the linking verbs, in general how to identify them properly? 1. He acts nicely or nice? 2. He behaves nicely or nice?

Hello Mussorie,

In the first sentence both forms are possible but there is a change in meaning:

He acts nice [he is pretending to be a nice person]

He acts nicely [he is an actor and is performing well on stage/on the screen]

 

In the second sentence nicely is the correct form. We would not use the adjective here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please the difference between the following structures? 1. Keep + gerund ( verb+ing) Eg: keep moving 2. Keep + preposition +gerund (been+ing) Eg: keep on moving Are their meanings the same? Can the above structures be used interchangeably?

Hi Mussorie,

Yes! Both mean the same thing - to continue doing something, or to do it repeatedly. Generally, yes, you can use them interchangeably, except for a small number of fixed, idiomatic phrases (e.g. keep on trucking; keep on keeping on).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please explain the difference and meaning between the following two sentences? 1.Sharing new ideas with them makes me so happy ------ (sharing (gerund) followed by direct object). 2.Sharing of new ideas with them makes me so happy ------- (sharing (verbal noun) followed by preposition). What is the difference in the meaning between them? 1.Sharing new ideas. 2.Sharing of new ideas.

Hi Mussorie,

It's a good question! Basically, the meaning is very similar in 1 and 2, but we understand Sharing as a different word type (verb or noun) in them.

 

An -ing form is somewhere between a verb and a noun. It may have more characteristics of a verb (e.g. can take a direct object; can take an adverb) or more characteristics of a noun (e.g. needs a preposition; takes an article; takes an adjective rather than an adverb).

 

In sentence 1 we understand Sharing more as a verb (i.e., referring to doing something) because it has a direct object. We could also, for example, add an adverb: Sharing new ideas frequently ...

In sentence 2 we understand Sharing more as a noun (i.e., the name of an activity) because it has a preposition. We could add an adjective (e.g. The frequent sharing of new ideas ...) but not an adverb (frequently). In fact, I would say that sentence 2 needs to have an article, for this reason --> The sharing of new ideas ... .

 

Have a look at this comment thread for more examples and explanation. I hope it helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, One question about sentences with the verb "help". The example states: "He offered to help us wash up" Would it be also correct: "He offered to help us TO wash up" and "He offered to help us "washing" up? Many thanks

Hello Zub0v,

Both a bare infinitive ('wash up') and a full infinitive ('to wash up') are correct after the verb 'help'. The bare infinitive is the correct form in American English and both forms are commonly used in British English.

You could say 'to help us washing up' because 'washing up' is sometimes used as a noun phrase, but this is not true of most other verbs. For example, it would be incorrect to say 'He offered to help us taking the children to school' or anything similar with most verbs.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please explain my questions regarding the usage of the following? In this context can we use? 1.He offered to help our washing up the clothes. In this example, 2.To help us washing up, is the washing up here not acting as gerund (object complement) to "us". If "washing up" is used in this context, then why not is it possible to use with other verbs? 3.He offered to help us taking the children to school.

Hello Mussorie,

Although ultimately one could say that it's a gerund derived from the verb 'wash up', 'washing-up' is listed as noun in the dictionary. There are other words like this (e.g. 'swimming', obviously derived from 'swim' -- which interestingly, is also a noun as well as a verb). These words ending in '-ing' are so common that they have the 'feel' of regular nouns rather than gerunds.

I realise that's not a very precise explanation, but as far as I know, this is the reason it can be used differently than gerunds.

It's great that you want to understand English in analytical terms, and without a doubt that will help you make sense of many forms, but with forms like this you run up against the fact that language is also shaped by how people use it. Although these uses can be broken down in analysis, it's often better to just accept them, observe how they are used and imitate them.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Kirk, thanks for your information, 1. Is the usage of my first sentence correct? 2. This is about the third question, why is the third statement incorrect as you said? In the third statement, " talking" is acting as a object complement to "us". I think it might be correct like the following statement. I saw him watching the game. As you said it is incorrect, could you please explain the reason why it is incorrect?

Hello Mussorie,

The first sentence ('He offered to help our washing up the clothes') is unnatural, though I don't think anyone would have trouble understanding it. First of all, 'washing-up' refers to dirty dishes, not dirty clothes. Also, instead of saying 'help our washing-up', people typically say 'help us with the washing-up' -- it's not really a task we use a possessive adjective with.

In the third sentence, instead of 'help someone with something', there's the pattern 'help someone do something'. In other words, 'we help someone do something' or 'we help someone to do something' are the typical patterns, not 'we help someone doing something'. You can find this in the example sentences in any decent dictionary.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there please clarify the tense of them When will you be going to Dhaka again? (Future continuous/simple future) We are going to postpone it, till he arrives. - simple future or present continuous
Hello Team! According to the explanation, if the verb "to like" is followed by another verb, it must be in the -ing form. But I found this sentence in one of the Online Courses : " If I have a job to do, I like to finish it. " Why there is the to+infinitive form in this case? Thank you Martina

Hello Martina,

I can confirm for you that 'like' can be followed by both the '-ing' form and also an infinitive. I'm sorry that our explanation here is confusing and we'll fix that very soon. In any case, I'd recommend you have a look at our Verbs followed by the '-ing' form and Verbs followed by the infinitive pages, where you can fuller explanations of this topic.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello Todarowa,

I'm afraid I don't understand your question. Could you please ask it again in a more complete form?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I have a question sir. I still don't understand why those verbsfollowed by other verb+ing, why we can't use without ing, ?

Hello batnyam99102211,

I'm not entirely sure what you mean here, but I think you're referring to verb patterns, which means which verbs are followed by which structures. These are patterns which need to be memorised. There is no 'why' to it; they are arbitrary structures within the language system.

 

You can read more about verb patterns of various types on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/clause-structure-and-verb-patterns

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, I can say I like playing football. Also, I can say I would like to play football. From the explanation, it mentioned when like followed by another verb. It must be in the -ing form. Is it correct when I say I'd like to play football?

Hi guotitang,

Yes, I'd like to play football is correct. Would like is followed by to + infinitive. (Would like is structurally different from like.)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, i want to know if i understand well how to use this two kind of forms: -ing it´s after verbs or situations when we are making an action or it´s a fact that we´re going to do it? "to be" it´s when we´re planning make something or we have the wish for do it?

Hello JJ Bautista,

The choice of verb-ing or to verb depends on the preceding verb. Some verbs must be followed by verb-ing and some by to verb. Some can be followed by either, and then the meaning may change. However, the difference needs to be learned for each case; there is no overall rule of the kind you suggest.

For example:

I forgot to go to the shop. [= I didn't go because I didn't remember]

I forgot going to the shop. [= I went to the shop but have no memory of it]

I like going swimming at the weekend. [= I enjoy the activity]

I like to go swimming at the weekend. [= this is my preferred habit]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I have a question. how do native speakers judge which verb go with Infinitive or -ing form? It is difficult to memorize all verbs and which form they will take...

Hi Suguru,

Yes, this is a tricky area! And I'm afraid I don't have an easy answer. There are some general patterns. For example, verbs about preferences (e.g. like, love, prefer, hate, don't mind ...) are often followed by the -ing form, and verbs about intentions (e.g. want, hope, wish, intend, plan, expect ...) are often followed by to + infinitive. It's useful to be aware of these patterns. But they are general patterns only, and I'm sure there are many verbs that do not follow these patterns. 

Native speakers learn not by rules but by seeing and hearing these words many, many times as they grow up, and then by using them in meaningful situations. So, I would suggest that, as well as learning rules and patterns, looking for opportunities to use new words and structures is very important for learning them.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, everyone Can I say, she's learning to learn English. Or she's want to learn English Which is sentence right

Hi Pola,

The sentences mean different things.

  • The first one means 'she's learning how to learn English'. It's grammatically correct.
  • The second one shows what she wants (not what she does, like the first sentence). A correction is needed to the verb: She wants to learn English.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

What is the subject and the predicate of the following sentence? There are a number of Latin books in the Library? Kindly answer it with clarification.