There are many ‘rules’ relating to ing or infinitive verbs.
The best way to remember them is to learn them as ‘chunks’ and practise using them with real, personalised examples.
Here are 2 basic rules that help me:
1. Try to think of a ‘to + infinitive’ verb as a NEXT ACTION, (whereas the ‘ing’ verb is a progressive, continuous action).
So, ‘I like cooking’ means I like the action/activity, whereas ‘I want to cook’ means you want to do a new/next action.
2. Try to think of ‘ing’ verbs as nouns e.g.
- ‘I like cooking’ is the same use as for a noun (I like food).
- ‘Cooking is fun’ is the same use as for a noun (Football is fun).
Watch my YouTube video here.
Verb + ‘-ing’ form (like a NOUN)
Verbs of emotion (like, love, hate, detest, can’t stand, don’t mind)
I like swimming.
‘Noun’ at the start of a clause
Swimming is easy.
I’m good at swimming.
After certain verbs e.g. quit, escape, delay, postpone, fear
I avoid swimming.
Also: can’t help, can’t imagine, can’t stand
2. Verb + to + infinitive (next action)
- I want to swim.
Next action: I’d like to, prefer to, need to, have to, decide to, hope to, plan to, promise to, offer to, agree to, choose to
- It’s easy to swim.
Adjectives: It’s too cold to swim, It’s not warm enough to swim.
- I came here to swim.
Purpose: I’m studying English (in order) to find a job.
- I need to swim.
After other verbs e.g. demand to, prepare to, volunteer to
Also – can’t afford to, can’t wait to
3. Some basic differences
Notice the big difference between ‘like’ and ‘would like to’.
- I like swimming. (always true)
- I’d like to swim (in the future/next action)
Other ‘+ -ing’ verbs tend to be negative or ending the action:
- quit, escape
- delay, postpone
- fear, risk, dread, miss
- admit, deny
- can’t imagine, can’t help
- can’t stand, can’t bear
- consider, discuss (exceptions)
- recommend*, suggest* (danger words! See below!)
Other ‘+ infinitive’ verbs tend to be about the next action:
- agree to, consent to
- decide to, choose to
- hope to, plan to
- offer to, volunteer to
- be able to, manage to
- allow (me) to, encourage (me) to
- threaten to, refuse to
- fail to (exception)
- can’t wait to, can’t afford to
4. verb + 😊 + to + infinitive
Most verbs + pronouns take the infinitive:
He advised me to stop.
They allowed her to leave.
She asked him to help.
Her parents encouraged her to study medicine.
She forced me to go on stage.
This motivated her to carry on.
I paid him to fix my computer.
Did you manage to fix it?
They told us to wait.
They warned him not to invest in that company.
Some verbs take verb + 😊+ ing:
- I saw him smoking.
- I caught him cheating.
- I noticed her leaving.
5. Other -ING expressions
- It’s no good/use complaining.
- It’s not worth complaining. (click for full lesson)
- There’s no point (in) complaining.
‘ing’ after ‘to’
- I look forward to seeing you.
- I’m addicted to running.
- I’m not used/accustomed to driving on the left.
6. Both possible: SAME meaning
- I like swimming = I like to swim
- It started raining = It started to rain
- He helped me prepare = He helped me to prepare
7. Both possible: DIFFERENT meaning
This is a complex and confusing area which requires a whole lesson by itself.
Some verbs take both gerund and infinitive, with different meanings:
1. I remember going to the zoo. (A memory of a past action)
I remembered to do my homework. (You remembered to do the NEXT action)
2. I’ll never forget going to the zoo. (A memory of a PAST action)
I forgot to do my homework. (You forgot to do the NEXT action)
3. I tried counting sheep, drinking hot chocolate and reading a book. (You tried different THINGS but you didn’t succeed).
I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. (You tried to do one difficult thing – your purpose).
4. I stopped smoking last year. (You stopped the previous action).
I stopped (what I was doing) to smoke. (You stopped the previous action in order to do the next one).
5. I regret telling my parents about my new boyfriend. (You feel bad about a PAST action)
I regret to tell you that you were not successful on this occasion. (You feel bad about the NEXT action – telling the bad news)
6. He went on singing. (He continued the PAST action)
He went on to become famous. (Becoming famous was his NEXT action)
7. IELTS means working hard without a break. (This action continues).
I didn’t mean to hurt you. (= I didn’t plan to/intend to do the next action).
8. I used to smoke. (but now I’ve stopped).
I’m used to driving on the left side. (This action is normal as I have done it many times).
8. DANGER VERBS: verbs without ‘to’ (bare infinitive)
🤯 My parents made me work hard. (no ‘to’, no ‘ing’)
BUT I was made to work hard (Passive)
🥰 My parents let me wear make-up. (no ‘to’, no ‘ing’)
BUT I was allowed to wear make-up (Passive)
ii) I’d rather go BUT I’d prefer to go.
iii) I’d better go/ Let’s go!
iv) Modals: I should go, I must go, I could go, I may go, I might go, BUT I have to go.
9. DANGER VERBS: ‘suggest’ and ‘recommend’
- ‘Could you recommend/suggest a good hotel?’ (no ‘me’!)
- ‘I recommend/suggest the Ritz’.
- ‘I recommend/suggest going to the Ritz’.
- ‘I recommend/suggest that you go to the Ritz’.
NOT ‘He recommended/suggested
me the Ritz’.
NOT ‘He recommended/suggested
me to go to the Ritz’. (though many people now say this!)
ing in IELTS writing
- Starting a sentence with a noun makes your writing more formal.
- Using an ‘ing’ form of the verb as a linking word makes your writing more academic, resulting in a higher score.
(= , which results in a higher score)
(= . This results in a higher score)
How to remember ing or infinitive verbs
- There are some rules
- There are some exceptions
- Learn the rules
- Learn the exceptions
- Read a lot
- Notice examples
- Practise a lot – write personal examples to make them more memorable.
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