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  1. #1
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    "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    Hello everyone,
    I seem to fail to grasp the subtleties (if any) of using the expression "to understanding" instead of "to understand" when writing technical papers. For example, in the following sentence:
    "Identifying the composition of this system is thus critical to understanding the mechanisms that stabilize..." (etc., etc.)
    I almost always tend to use "to understand" instead of "to understanding", and I am permanently corrected by my advisor about this. Can somebody tell me which one is the most appropriate expression and why?
    Thanks a lot!
    MSV.

  2. #2
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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    Welcome, msv1.

    What about structure?

    "Identifying the composition of this system is thus critical to understanding the mechanisms that stabilize . . . ."

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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea
    Welcome, msv1.

    What about structure?

    "Identifying the composition of this system is thus critical to understanding the mechanisms that stabilize . . . ."
    I wouldn't say it has only to do with structure. The gerund "identifying", which is used at the beginning of this sentence, is not the same thing as "to identify". If "to identify" is used at the beginning of this sentence, the meaning is not the same. Therefore, I would not say this has only to do with structure. In other words, I don't think using "to understanding" is preferred over "to understand" only because "identifying" is used at the beginning of the sentence. Using "to identify" at the beginning of the sentence would mean that the structure of the rest of the sentence has to change. But that's something else.

    I might say that msv1's advisor might be going on the idea that it is better to use an infinitive than a gerund. However, there's nothing at all wrong with using a gerund - ing form - here.


    critical to understanding - important in the overall idea of a clear picture

    critical to understand - important in order to have a clear picture of the idea - or "it is critical to understand" - another way to use "to understand".


    The key, here, lies not only in structure, but also in meaning.

    It's wrong for msv1's advisor to say that using the phrase "critical to understanding" is incorrect. I wouldn't, however, attribute this to structure only. This has something to do with meaning as well.
    Last edited by Steven D; 20-Nov-2005 at 19:07.

  4. #4
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    You could try adding something like 'your understanding' and it still makes sense, while 'your understand' doesn't work. However, I wouldn't say that the infinitive is wrong here, but I would use the gerund.

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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    The correct one is 'understanding' because the word 'to' following 'critical' is a preposition and should be followed by a gerund, the 'ing' form of a verb.

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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    Quote Originally Posted by Lang Kamara
    The correct one is 'understanding' because the word 'to' following 'critical' is a preposition and should be followed by a gerund, the 'ing' form of a verb.

    A preposition is followed by a gerund. This is true. However, "to understand" is an infinitive. In this case "to" is part of an infinitive. I would, therefore, not apply this rule in this particular example.


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    rhapsomatrics is offline Junior Member
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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    I think,here,that I'd love to agree with "casiopea" to some extent, though it may as well be a "lazy escape route".Tackling this issue from the standpoint of the structural composition of the sentence in reference is sparingly ambivalent.
    "to understant"...is best identified as a noun phrase engendered by a preposition.It can also be replaced by "understanding"(semantically)I don't honestly think that "to understand" and "to understanding" are close enough in both meaning and usage to bring confusion.
    "To have" a good wife is a great privilege(correct)
    "Having" a good wife is a great privilege(correct)
    "To having" a good wife is a great privilege(incorrect)
    Therefore,it suffices to say that the "to" infinitive is only used with a gerund when projecting into the future with a specific mission.

    I am looking forward to(....A......) from you.
    I want to(......B.....) from you.

    "A" above requires a noun...gerunds are verbal nouns...hearing
    "B" above requires a verb....hear
    Consentration is essential to.......C....... a comprehension passage.
    ...Since consentration is a noun,the space marked C should also take a noun...understanding"
    I think the best way get this is to separate the infinitive(first) and then consider the structure of the sentence to determine what to use.
    .maturity.. is indispensable (to)........ a relationship.
    .....the word maturity is a noun,therefore the space should take a noun....
    "found"(to establish) is a verb therefore "founding" would be more appropriate in this context....Maturity is indispensable to founding a relationship!

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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    Quote Originally Posted by Lang Kamara
    The correct one is 'understanding' because the word 'to' following 'critical' is a preposition and should be followed by a gerund, the 'ing' form of a verb.
    Very insightful. Prepositional phrases don't require a subject, [1], whereas verbs, [2], even infinitives, [3], do.

    [1] thus critical to(wards) understanding
    [2] thus critical that we understand
    [3] thus critical in order for us to understand

  9. #9
    Steven D's Avatar
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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea
    Very insightful. Prepositional phrases don't require a subject, [1], whereas verbs, [2], even infinitives, [3], do.

    [1] thus critical to(wards) understanding
    [2] thus critical that we understand
    [3] thus critical in order for us to understand


    Why would you not view "to understand" as an infinitive? There is a choice between an infinitive and a gerund here. However, if we view "to" as a preposition, then, yes, it has to be followed by a gerund.
    "to understand" - infinitive.

    Would you use "critical towards understanding" in writing or speaking? I wouldn't call it a strong combination of words.

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    Re: "To understand" vs "To understanding"

    Quote Originally Posted by X Mode
    Why would you not view "to understand" as an infinitive?
    Do you mean, "to understanding" isn't an infinitive? If so, I agree. It's not an infinitive.

    "critical to" is an adjective + preposition pair. It means, essential to. The preposition "to" takes a nominal as its object, e.g., noun phrase, like "the family's well-being" or a gerund, like "understanding".

    EX: . . . a second income that is critical to the family's well-being.
    EX: . . . is thus critical to understanding the mechanisms that stabilize . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by X Mode
    There is a choice between an infinitive and a gerund here.
    In other words, the subject of the infinitive phrase "to understand" would be something like "for us"?

    EX: ?"Identifying the composition of this system is thus critical [for us] to understand the mechanisms that stabilize..."

    Sounds awkward, no?

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