Advanced Level: Gerunds and Infinitives
Fri, 11/01/2013 – 07:13 — Chris McCarthy
A gerund is a noun made by adding ‘-ing’ to a verb. The gerund of the verb ‘read’ is ‘reading’. The gerund can be used as the subject, the complement, or the object of a sentence.
Reading helps you improve your vocabulary. (subject)
Her favourite hobby is reading. (complement)
I enjoy reading. (object)
Gerunds are made negative by adding ‘not’.
The best thing for your health is not drinking.
An infinitive is the ‘to’ form of the verb. The infinitive form of ‘learn’ is ‘to learn’. The infinitive can be used as the subject, the complement, or the object of a sentence.
To learn is important. (subject)
The most important thing is to learn. (complement)
He wants to learn. (object)
Infinitives are made by adding ‘not’.
I decided not to go out tonight.
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, whereas infinitives sound more abstract. In the following sentences, gerunds sound more natural and would be more common in everyday English. Infinitives emphasize the possibility or potential for something and sound more philosophical. As a rule of thumb a gerund is best most of the time.
Normal subject Abstract subject
Learning is important. To learn is important.
Normal complement Abstract complement
The most important thing is learning. The most important thing is to learn.
The choice between a gerund and an infinitive as the object of a sentence is harder to determine. In this case gerunds and infinitives are not normally interchangeable. Usually the main verb of the sentence determines the use of a gerund or an infinitive.
He enjoys swimming. (‘enjoy’ requires a gerund)
He wants to swim. (‘want’ requires to)
Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school
Now decide whether a gerund or an infinitive completes the following correctly:
- 1. Sarah enjoys _ romantic novels.
- 2. Peter suggested _ to an Italian restaurant.
- 3. I miss _ next to the sea.
- 4. Where did you learn how _ so well?
- 5. Do you mind _ the window? It’s stuffy in here.
- 6. He asked _ to the director.
- 7. You keep _ about your ex-girlfriend. No wonder Sarah left you.
- 8. Max plans _ to New York. We’re going to miss him.