In this lesson you’ll learn about the key differences between an ‘-ing’ verb and a ‘to+ infinitive’.
Although there are ‘rules’ and ‘lists’ that you can learn, it is better to develop confidence using real examples.
- I 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.
- Also, it is helpful 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).
In my message below, I’ve used about 8 of the -ing vs infinitive rules. Can you spot them?
Have you ever tried to learn when to use ‘-ing’ and when to use infinitives (with or without usING ‘to’)?
I’ve tried lots of different ways to make these verbs clearer for my students. I’ve tried using pictures, I’ve tried using songs and I’ve tried grouping them into similar meanings.
Now I think I’ve managed to condense 6 hours of lessons into this 10-minute tutorial to help you make the right choices.
There are too many verbs to learn all at once, but I hope to give you a few simple rules to make them more logical.
If you watch my video, you might find that it all makes perfect sense (kind of!).
Watch my YouTube Video here:
Verb + '-ing' form (like a NOUN)
I like swimming.
Verbs of emotion (like, love, hate, detest, can’t stand, don’t mind)
Swimming is easy.
‘Noun’ at the start of a clause e.g. Smoking is bad for you.
I’m good at swimming.
After Prepositions e.g. I took up swimming last year.
I avoid running.
After certain verbs e.g. quit, escape, delay, postpone, fear
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. (every day)
- I’d like to swim (in the future)
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.
We begged them to give us a chance.
He challenged her to do better.
My schoolmates dared me to do it!
Her parents encouraged her to study medicine.
This certificate entitles you to travel for free.
I expected him to do better.
They forbade me to see him again/from seeing him again.
She forced me to go on stage.
The tutor instructed me to fix it.
They invited me to participate.
This motivated her to carry on.
The council ordered my neighbours to remove their rubbish.
I paid him to fix my computer.
My visa permits me to work.
Did you manage to persuade him to do it?
Her boss reminded her to switch all the lights off.
My degree requires me to do practical work.
Schools should teach children to respect the environment.
They told us to wait.
His coach urged him not to continue.
My company wants me to relocate.
They warned him not to invest in that company.
Some verbs take verb + 😊+ ing:
- I saw him smoking.
- I caught him cheating.
- I found her crying.
- I noticed her leaving.
- I watched her dancing.
- I heard someone shouting.
5. Other -ING expressions
More negatives here!
- 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
- It continued raining = It continued to rain
- The roof needs fixing = The roof needs to be fixed
- Seeing is believing = To see is to believe
7. Both possible: DIFFERENT meaning
This is a complex and confusing area which requires a whole lesson by itself.
There are 8 verbs which 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!)
10. How can I use ‘-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)
To sum up
- 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.