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Gerunds and Infinitives

A gerund is a noun made from a verb by adding “-ing.” The gerund form of the verb “read” is “reading.” You can use a gerund as the subject, the complement, or the object of a sentence.

Examples:

  • Reading helps you learn English. subject of sentence
  • Her favorite hobby is readingcomplement of sentence
  • I enjoy readingobject of sentence
  • Smoking is bad for your health.subject
  • His biggest vice is smoking.  object
  • He should stop smoking.  complement
  • Learning English is important nowadays. subject

 

Gerunds can be made negative by adding “not.”

Examples:

  • He enjoys not working.
  • The best thing for your health is not smoking.
  • Not smoking is good for your health.
  • Not reading the instructions can end in disaster.
  • The engine is not running
  • Not going to bed early can leave you tired in the morning.
  • Sometimes I enjoy not doing

Infinitives are the “to” form of the verb. The infinitive form of “learn” is “to learn.” You can also use an infinitive as the subject, the complement, or the object of a sentence.

Examples:

  • To learn is important. subject of sentence
  • The most important thing is to learncomplement of sentence
  • He wants to learnobject of sentence
  • To play professional basketball has always been his dream. subject
  • His dream has always been to play professional basketball. object
  • He wants to play professional basketball some day. object

 

Infinitives can be made negative by adding “not.”

Examples:

  • I decided not to go.
  • The most important thing is not to give up.
  • He decided not to play
  • Not to drink too much is the only thing Eli wants.
  • Emanuel turned away and decided not to look.

Both gerunds and infinitives can be used as the subject or the complement of a sentence. However, as subjects or complements, gerunds usually sound more like normal, spoken English, but infinitives sound more abstract. In the following sentences, gerunds sound more natural and are more common in everyday English. Infinitives emphasize the possibility or potential for something and sound more philosophical. If this sounds confusing, just remember that 90% of the time, you will use a gerund as the subject or complement of a sentence.

Examples:

  • Learning is important. normal subject
  • To learn is important. abstract subject – less common
  • The most important thing is learningnormal complement
  • The most important thing is to learnabstract complement – less common

As the object of a sentence, it is more difficult to choose between a gerund and an infinitive. In such situations, gerunds and infinitives are not normally interchangeable. Usually, the main verb in the sentence determines whether you use a gerund or an infinitive.

Examples:

  • He enjoys swimming“Enjoy” requires a gerund.
  • She suggested going to a movie. “Suggest” requires a gerund.
  • Mary keeps talking about her problems. “Keep” requires a gerund.
  • He wants to swim“Want” requires an infinitive.
  • She decided to go to a movie. “Decide” requires an infinitive.
  • Mary needs to talk about her problems. “Need” requires an infinitive.

Gerunds can often be modified with possessive forms such as his, her, its, your, their, our, John’s, Mary’s, the machine’s, and so on. This makes it clearer who or what is performing the action.

Examples:

  • enjoyed their singingThey were singing.
  • She understood his saying no to the offer. He said no.
  • Sam resented Debbie’s coming late to the dinner. Debbie came late to the dinner.
  • We discussed the machine’s being  The machine is broken.
  • She minded their smoking. They were smoking
  • She stopped his snoring by holding his nose.He was snorin

There are many “go + gerund” expressions used for adventure sports and individual recreational activities.

Examples:

  • go swimming every weekend.
  • Would you ever go skydiving?
  • How often do you go shopping?
  • Have you ever gone windsurfing?

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