Verb plus gerund and infinitive is a tricky little language point at the edges of grammar and vocabulary which doesn’t quite have a rule but does have useful patterns. It also doesn’t seem to have much communicative function but then hits students with the contrast between “Try to open the door” and “Try opening the door”. This article gives ideas on how to get students to really learn this language point through explanation, recognising patterns, and lots of fun practice. This will be followed by an article on verb patterns more generally, including “let someone do”, “want someone to do”, etc.
What students need to know about verb plus gerund and infinitive
The main thing that students need to learn about this language point is that it cannot be explained away by simple rules but mostly needs to be learnt, making it more like vocabulary than grammar. However, there are quite a few useful patterns which can make it seem manageable, semi-logical, and easier to learn.
Patterns that help learn verb plus gerund and infinitive
The main pattern which is worth getting students to notice is that verbs which have the same and opposite meanings tend to be followed by the same form of the next verb, as in (in approximate order of usefulness):
- want to do/ would like to do/ would prefer to do
- aim to do/ plan to do/ intend to do
- hope to do/ wish to do
- recommend going/ suggest going
- agree to do/ refuse to do
- offer to do/ volunteer to do
- appear to be/ seem to be
- fail to do/ manage to do
- decide to do/ hesitate to do
- complete doing/ finish doing
- fancy doing/ feel like doing
- promise to do/ threaten to do
- recall doing/ recollect doing
- acknowledge feeling/ admit (to) feeling
- oppose doing/ support doing
- resume doing/ restart doing
- appreciate being/ resent being
- abhor doing/ can’t stand doing/ detest doing/ loathe doing
- long to do/ yearn to do
There are also some which are pairs with things which aren’t strictly just verb plus verb, but do conveniently match in both meaning and grammar, as in:
- dread doing/ look forward to doing
- consider doing/ contemplate doing/ think about doing
- discuss doing/ talk about doing
- give up doing/ keep doing
- delay doing/ postpone doing/ put off doing
- prepare to do/ get ready to do
- fear doing/ be afraid of doing
You should definitely use the word “pattern” not “rule” to describe the matching verbs above, as there are also some with related meanings but different grammar, as in:
- anticipate having/ expect to have
- can’t wait to do/ look forward to doing
- claim to be/ deny being
- avoid doing/ volunteer to do
Ones which are paired with verbs with prepositions like “talk about” and “put off” are the easiest to remember, as they follow a simple rule that every preposition is followed by verb with -ing, something that students are often already aware of from examples like “by having…” and “for peeling”. This is also true when “to” is a preposition, most famously in “I look forward to hearing from you soon”, but also in “confessed to stealing/ admitted (to) stealing”, “adjusted to having” and “objected to losing”. As preposition plus verb with -ing is an actual rule, the difficult part is therefore to spot when “to” is a preposition and when it is just part of the infinitive.
We can see that “to” is actually a preposition in these examples like “admitted to stealing” because it can also be followed by a noun, as in “look forward to the party” and “confessed to the crime”. In contrast, with “to plus infinitive”, where “to” isn’t actually a preposition, a noun would go straight after the verb (where possible) without “to”, as in “want a sandwich” and “plan a party”.
Verbs with both gerund and infinitive
The next topic to cover is verbs that can be followed by both gerund and infinitive. Those which don’t change meaning are actually the easiest for students as they are always correct in either way and so it’s impossible to make a mistake, as in:
- start to do/ start doing
- begin to do/ begin doing
- continue to talk/ continue talking
- prefer to do/ prefer doing
- hate doing ‘(Br. Eng.)/ hate to do (Am. Eng.)
- love doing (Br. Eng.)/ love to do (Am. Eng.)
There is also a small group of verbs with both gerund and infinitive that do change meaning, as in:
- I stopped smoking two years ago./ I stopped to tie up my shoelace and so didn’t see the crash.
Some verbs like “stop” share the pattern that the gerund version means that the action in the second verb happens first (I was smoking, but then I stopped), whereas in the infinitive version the first verb happens first (I stopped doing something else, and then I tied up my shoe laces). The order of the actions can be shown by writing (1) and (2) for the first and second thing to happen, as in:
- I stopped (2) smoking (1) two years ago./ I stopped (1) to tie up my shoelace (2) and so didn’t see the crash.
“Remember” and “forget” have the same difference in time of the actions, as in “I remembered (1) to bring my umbrella (2)” (I remembered and then brought my umbrella) and “I don’t remember (2) coming here as a kid (1)” (I came here as a kid, and now I don’t remember). The “I don’t remember coming here” version also conveniently has the same grammar and meaning as “I don’t recall coming here” and “I don’t recollect coming here”.
“Regret” also works this way. “I regret (1) to inform you that… (2)” means the feeling comes before the informing and “I regret (2) telling him that… (1)” means that I told him and only afterwards felt regret. The latter has a similar meaning and the same grammar as “I resent having had to tell him that”. The final one with this pattern that is worth including (and probably only in higher-level classes) is “go on”, as in “He went on (1) to found (2) a company” and “He went on (2) founding companies (1)”, with the latter following “He carried on founding companies” in both grammar and meaning.
Another possible explanation for the difference in meaning between “stop tying up my shoelaces” and “stop to tie up my shoelaces” is that the “to” has its common meanings of “in order to”, as in “I stopped (in order) to tie up my shoe laces”. In the gerund sentence, by contrast, you can add a “to” or “in order to” with that meaning to add extra information to the sentence, as in “I stopped smoking two years ago (to save money/ in order to save money)”.
This “to” meaning “in order to” explanation also works for “try”, in examples like “Try opening the door (to cool down the room/ in order to cool down the room)”. In contrast, “I tried to open the door (but it was locked)” has the same meaning and grammar as “I attempted to open the door”.
“Like” is either an easy one that you have free choice with like “start doing”/ “start to do” or an even trickier one than “regret” etc, depending on what level students are and so how much information you choose to share about it. Americans generally say “I like to shop early in the morning”, which means the same as a British person who says “I like shopping early in the morning”, both meaning “I enjoy shopping early in the morning”. However, a British person who says “I like to shop early in the morning” just means that it is a good thing to do, for example to make the rest of their day easier, not necessarily something that they enjoy. To give a clearer example, if a British person says “I like to go to the dentist at least twice a year”, that doesn’t mean they enjoy it! I rarely teach this distinction unless it comes up in class naturally, but I do tend to teach (but not insist on) “like going” instead of “like to go”, as it matches “enjoy going” in terms of both meaning and verb pattern.
Other useful verbs that take gerund and infinitive
Other verbs followed by infinitive or -ing form that are useful to learn include:
- afford to do
- arrange to do
- can’t help doing
- celebrate doing
- dare to be
- demand to be
- don’t mind doing
- get to be
- mention doing
- miss doing
- need to do
- practise doing
- pretend to do
- resist doing
- risk losing
- struggle to do
- tend to be
- tolerate doing
How to present verb plus gerund and infinitive
Presentation of this language should start with an unrelated task then move onto students classifying the verbs and finding patterns in the verb patterns that they take such as similar meaning and the same grammar. For example, they could answer comprehension questions about a written or spoken text, then search the same text for examples of verb plus verb and the form and perhaps meaning of each. They should then be asked to find synonyms and opposites with the same grammar, and you can also get them to find ones where both infinitive and gerund are possible if you want to cover that. It is possible to cover all four of verbs with similar meanings and the grammar, verbs with opposite meanings and the same grammar, ones where both verb patterns are possible with no change in meaning and ones where both are possible with a change in meaning. However, that will inevitably mean an unnaturally high number of examples in one text and so probably a slightly odd article, dialogue, etc.
The sentence completion games below can also be played at the presentation stage.
How to practise verb plus gerund and infinitive
Gerund and infinitive sentence completion games
The best initial practice activities for this point is one that really gives students a chance to think carefully about verb patterns and then gives them the opportunity to really communicate with those verbs. I have found that the best way of achieving both of those things starts with getting them to complete sentences like “I tend ________________ in the morning” and “I don’t mind ______________________ at work, but I don’t really enjoy it”. They can then play guessing games, play bluffing games (if they included false information when they completed the sentences), and/ or find and write things that they have in common. These activities are explained below, including some variations without the sentence completion stage.
If you want to use this activity at the presentation stage, you could give the sentence stems with “to” and “-ing” already included (“I tend to ____________ in the morning”, “I don’t mind ____________ing (______) at work, but I don’t really enjoy it”, etc). Then when they finish the communication stage, test them on their memory of which gaps had “to” before them and which had “-ing” afterwards.
Gerund and infinitive personal guessing games
This is by far the best sentence completion game for getting students to think carefully about the language, as they have to get the right verb pattern both when completing the sentence and when guessing. Students fill in sentences like “I attempted __________________ but couldn’t do it the first time that I tried” with personal information. They then read out just the part they wrote in one gap, and see if their partners can guess which sentence they put that info into.
It may also be possible to do the same with just a list of verbs. Students make a whole true personal sentence with one of verbs, then read out their sentence with the verb missing (e.g. “My father BLANK/ BEEP/ LA LA LA to stop paying my pocket money if I broke another window” for “threaten”) for their partner to try to guess the complete version of, using both the meaning and the verb patterns to help them come up with the right verb.
Gerund and infinitive bluffing games
For the sentence completion bluffing game, students fill in personal sentences like “I dread…” and “I have decided” with a mix of true and false information like “having to take another English test” and “to move house”. They then read out one sentence, answer follow-up questions on what they said (still lying if the initial sentence wasn’t true), then see if their partner can correctly guess if their sentence was true or not.
The same is also possible with just verbs that they must use in their true and false sentences like “agree”.
Gerund and infinitive things in common
Students share information and ask each other questions in order to be able to complete sentences like “We detest _______________” and “We don’t regret ____________________”. You can then have another stage where they get points for any sentences which are unique to them, i.e. not true for any other groups in the class.
It may also be possible to do the opposite, giving them endings like “to have a family meal” and “starting school” to complete with sentences like “We have arranged to have a family meal” and “We don’t remember starting school”. To make sure that it is also grammar practice, tell them that they can’t change the grammar of the endings and so can only choose from a limited number of starting verbs in each case.
Gerund and infinitive discuss and agree
Instead of finding personal things in common, students can find views that they both share using stems like “Politicians tend _______________” and “We oppose _____________________”. These can then be shared with the class to see if any other groups agree and/ or wrote the same thing.
Gerund and infinitive discussion questions
It is possible to make up discussion questions that are likely to elicit the use of verbs like “prepare to go” and “agree to do” in students’ answers, and it’s perhaps easier to write discussion questions which have verb patterns in them like “Is it inevitable that politicians will promise to do things which they know are impossible, or can this be stopped?” After asking and answering the questions, students can then be tested on their memory of the verb patterns in the questions and/ or fill gaps in model answers with gerund and infinitive.
Gerund and infinitive pelmanism/ memory game/ pairs
Make cards with a more or less equal number of verbs which only take gerund (“mention”, etc) and verbs which only take infinitive (“need”, etc), plus maybe a few verbs which take both. Students spread all the cards out face down on the table and take turns trying to find two which take the same verb form, e.g. keeping both cards and getting two points if they can find “miss” and “fear”, because they both take gerunds. Ones which take both like “remember” match every other card, and so are a particularly lucky find (like the joker in some card games). Tell the other students to challenge any which their partners try to take but they think don’t actually match.
Gerund and infinite snap
This can be played with exactly the same cards as pelmanism above, but is a faster game. Students deal out the cards between them but don’t look at the cards in their packs. They take turns turning their top card face up and race to say “Snap” when the last two cards match by verb pattern. If they are right, they can take all the cards that have been placed face up, e.g. the last eight cards. Some students may shout out randomly, so you need to have a punishment for saying “Snap” when they don’t actually match such as giving one card to each other player. The winner is the person who has most cards left at the end of the game.
Before or after pelmanism and/ or snap, you can also get students to work together to put the verbs into columns by verb pattern and/ or match ones with the same verb pattern and similar or opposite meanings.
Gerund and infinitive storytelling activities
Lots of the verbs above are suitable for making imaginary anecdotes and other stories. Probably the best way to do this is by them using one verb each as they take turns continuing the same story. Suitable verbs for practising verb patterns while telling stories include:
- go on
- look forward to
Gerund and infinitive dictogloss/ grammar dictation
If you can fit enough of the relevant verb patterns into a short enough but still interesting and understandable text, gerund and infinitive is a perfect language point for this alternative dictation technique. The teacher reads out a text full of gerunds and infinitives twice, with students just listening with their pens down at this stage. The students then construct as much of that text as they can from memory, first on their own and then with a partner. They listen once more with pens down, make as many improvements as they can, then compare with the original text.
Gerund and infinitive Chinese whispers/ telephone game
This is similar to the activity above, but without writing and with the short text being told from person to person instead of from the teacher to the class. Put students in groups of four, with students doubling up as one role if there aren’t exactly the right number of people. Give each person/ pair of people acting as one person in the group a different short text full of the two verb patterns, e.g. a joke as the Student A text, an anecdote from the teacher as the Student B text, a movie plot summary as the Student C text, and a summary of the plot of a song as the Student D text.
Students try to memorise their texts and tell a version of them to the person next to them, then switch partners and tell the story that they just heard to the next person. They do this one more time, then tell the story that they just heard either to the original person or to the whole group for it to be added to and corrected. They can then be tested on the verb patterns with a gapped version of the same four texts.