When to use -ing or the ‘to’ infinite


Recently a student asked me which sentence was correct:-

I like walking. or  I like to walk.

  Using -ing            ‘to’ infinitive

In this example, the answer is, that they are both correct and there is little difference in meaning.  

However, that is not always the case, sometimes  gerund ‘-ing’ form is correct at other times the infinitive to + is the correct form. 

At other times,  both are correct but the different forms have a different meaning. 

So, when do you use which? 

There is no easy rule – sorry! 

It is a case of learning which verbs usually use which form, noticing how and when the forms are used and using that which sounds correct and conveys the correct meaning. To do this you need to look at lots of examples to get used to the correct forms. 

Don’t worry, we’ve gathered together some examples to help you get started!

Some verbs that are usually followed by -ing:

avoid   enjoy finish   imagine mind miss   recommend risk stop   suggest                

You will have to stop singing.

He finished reading the book.

Could you imagine buying a sports car?

Her grandmother suggested wearing something more traditional.

Joel recommended eating here.

Aaron avoids wearing trainers.

Do you mind moving your feet?

I miss eating with my family.

He risked missing his flight!

I enjoy cooking.

Verbs that are usually followed by the to infintive:

afford   agree arrange   ask decide expect  fail forget hope invite   learn manage offer plan promise   want would like

I would like to learn English.

He decides to drive to France.

I had managed to buy a present.

Verbs that can be followed by either (no difference in meaning):-

start    begin    bother

I started learning French. or  I started to learn French.

When you begin to read, start slowly. or When you begin reading, start slowly.

He couldn’t be bothered to eat. or He couldn’t be bothered eating.

Check up

Have a look at these examples, and try to select the form that fits best. 

(Find the answers at the end of the post)

  1. I can’t help …….. my daughter to drive carefully.

        telling /to tell

  1. My dog loves……. by the sea.

        to walk/walking

  1. My husband has agreed ……. one day a week.

                 to clean/cleaning

  1. We didn’t mind …….. on the beach.

           to cook/cooking

  1. She considered ………. away.

         to run/running

  1. I expect …………. on my wedding day.

            to cry/crying

Answers: 

  1. telling 2. both are correct 3. to clean 4. cooking 5. running 

6. There two answers that are correct but in this case using a different form changes the meaning:

I expect crying on my wedding day” = I think people will cry at my wedding

I expect to cry on my wedding day” = I will cry on my wedding day!

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