Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 14--ELT Professionals Around the World

Please read Post 68 and then come back here. Thank you.

Discussions—Series Fourteen

Topic 51
When do we use the second verb as ‘-ing’ and ‘to-infinitive’?
K R Lakshminarayanan active member, Expert Panel at Quadruple Education Network Private Limited, Chennai Top Contributor
There are verbs that take the second verb as -ing or to-infinitive. There can also be meaning differences:
I tried sleeping without a pillow for a week. (experimented)
He tried to sleep but without success. (attempted)

It's important that learners get to know such differences.

KR, Why do you ask these hard-to-answer questions? Don't we already know everything we need to?
From your examples, I can see that meanings can be interchanged between the two forms with a little effort. There isn't a cut & dry interpretation. My brother said the -ing form is gentler. That the to form implies a required result.

I'm not too sure about your second question. As a teacher, I'd like to know if teachers handle such distinctions, what problems they encountered and so on. Don't you think such meaning differences students need to be made aware of?

I think the value in asking and talking about the differences lies more in the method that is used, the process, than the ultimate conclusions. It's more an activity of intellectual searching and persistence.
As for usage, it's probably determined by longtime users of English. At present I myself generally choose one form or the other based on intuitive feeling.
So my contribution to the discussion (with you if no one else contributes) is: If the complement of the first verb is used as a verb, the form must be -ing. If it is used as a noun, the the form is 'to V'.

I agree with you, Nelson. Thanks.

That's OK. I don't fell we've quite gotten to the point where we can publish, but at least we took one step.

I’m being frank and I ask these:
My query is a genuine enquiry. I don’t know why mine is a hard-to-answer one.

I’m mystified by your
‘So my contribution to the discussion (with you if no one else contributes)’

‘I don't fell we've quite gotten to the point where we can publish, but at least we took one step.’ Have I hurt you in any way? If I have, I’m extremely sorry.

<Have I hurt you>

No, of course not. But just in case, you can send me a kilo or so of curried rice. I love curried rice.
Your questions is difficult to answer because I don't see where the answer will eventually surface. It's an excellent question, and I'm sorry no one else has posted so that we can investigate a worthy solution. I don't know if two people can reach a good result. Maybe you have a halfway answer to the question?

Thanks, Nelson. Sometimes, incorrect inferences surface first and cloud our comprehension. I'm a supreme example, in this instance.

As to the 'halfway', when I think of a thought or an idea, the words fall into place and the structures get formed, there's no conscious effort on my part of putting words together. Yet I'll try to think of common grounds for using one or the other as the second verb.

In my attempt to look for sources that could pinpoint when to use the –ing form or the infinitive form, I could get to two:
In their A Comprehensive English Grammar, the 1976 edition published by Longman Group Limited, C. E. Eckersley and J. M. Eckersley have this to say:
It is not always easy to decide when the gerund should be used
after a verb and when the infinitive but this is the general usage:
1. The following verbs take a gerund after them:
advise, avoid, consider, delay, deny, detest, dislike, endure,
enjoy, escape, excuse, fancy, finish, imagine, mind, miss,
postpone, practise, risk, stop, suggest, understand.
2. The gerund is also used after nearly all ‘phrasal verbs’:
You must go on working. He wants to give up smoking.
3. It is used, too, after the phrases:
‘it’s no good /use’, ‘is worth’, ‘be fond of/ capable of/ sick of,
look forward to

Verbs followed by the infinitive:
a. all special finites
b. the following verbs:
dare, decide, desire, endeavour, expect, guarantee, hope, mean (intend), offer, pretend,
promise, refuse, swear, undertake, want, wish

verbs followed by the gerund or the infinitive, depending on the meaning:
begin, can’t bear, cease, continue, dread, forget, hate, intend, learn, like, love, omit, prefer,
regret, remember, need, neglect, start, stop, try

In their 1985 edition of ‘The Right Word at the Right Time’, published by The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, they have this to say ( I provide here a summary):
a. The choice is ‘chiefly a matter of idiom rather than rules: I thought of leaving home;
I planned leaving/to leave home; I determined to leave home. So no helpful
generalisations can really be drawn up. A few pieces of advice are possible, however.
Be on the alert. It might seem natural to say x she has a penchant, inherited from her father, to read other people’s letters. A moment’s thought should indicate that for reading rather than to read is correct here: you say a penchant for cigars or a penchant for letters, so the correct form is likely to be a penchant for reading letters.

If you are in doubt, the chances are that the –ing form is the correct one. It is more common than the infinitive form.

If you remain in doubt, consult a good dictionary. It will often give you the correct form.

b. Some verbs allow either: I planned leaving/to leave home, I began speaking/to speak. In these examples, there is only a very slight difference in meaning.
With some verbs, however, the difference in meaning is considerable: I stopped speaking vs I stopped to speak, or she remembered going there vs she remembered to go there.

3. See Section 339 of Practical English Usage by Michael Swan. This is four page long.

english teacher at Synergy International Training and Testing
As you both say, sometimes externalising an uncertainty can lead to a solution. How about enchiladas from Nelson, curried rice from K.R. and Rendang from me. I am in Indonesia.

Not a bad feast, Frank, I guess. Thanks for the thought.

<words fall into place>

Yes, I think this is the value of grammar study - to make more natural the usage of oral language.

<began speaking/to speak>

I'm interested in the differences in usages of this type. In the -ing construction, the mental image I get is the process of speaking. In the -ed construction, I see someone just beginning the act of speaking.


Please mail mine c/o LinkedIn. Oh btw, speaking on another topic, what is your take on the difference, I guess in meaning, between a V2 having an -ing ending, and having the 'to v' construction?

In the -ing construction, the mental image I get is the process of speaking. In the -ed construction, I see someone just beginning the act of speaking.

Do we get this distinction in:
I didn’t start worrying/ to talk until she was two hours late.
Everyone began talking/ to talk at once.
I love lying/ to lie on my back.
I hate working/ to work in the early morning.
How do you propose getting/ to get home.
I prefer working/to work in the morning.

Creator and Directing Manager of
Top Contributor
good page of explanations and exercises for this question

Thanks, Mary, for the link. It helps with a list of verbs in each category. It also offers structures other than the one in the discussion. However, there's no explanation offered why certain verbs take the second verb in the -ing or to-infinitive form.

You are very welcome KR.

We might try to find a common demeanour in the words that follow with ing: enjoy, admit, mind, avoid, consider, dislike, feel like, finish, give up, can’t help, practise, suggest. All these words are "mindful" actions as opposed to physical. This could be a good way to remember some.

The gerund is used when we want to speak about an activity as a thing, rather than an action itself.
E.g. 1.I eat spaghetti.(action)
Eating spaghetti is fun.(informal: An activity to do or think about with complement)
To eat spaghetti the correct way is to be part of the Italian culture.(more formal: An activity to do or think about with complement)
E.g. 2. I suggested going to the restaurant (mindful activity)
I suggested we go to the restaurant (subjunctive - base form of verb)

I hope this helps.

Thanks, Mary.

<start worrying>

I think we should ask if we can more easily think of KR's example sentences as something going on, or something starting. Hopefully for the progressive verbs the 'going on' will be more amenable to considering the action as going on.
And then there are the types of verb that are used before the one in question. Would most verbs lend to an -ing ending in the verb in question? Would there be exceptions?

Yes, are there exceptions?

Here is another good page from British Council with examples

English language consultant
We use the -ing form after prepositions, e.g. 'He gave up smoking'. 'We talked about swimming'. 'After/before eating breakfast', etc.
<the -ing form after prepositions>

Useful. Very useful. I think I can remember it.
Lee RegalMarlon M. like this

online English Teacher via Skype
I agree KR that it is important to help learners understand the difference in meaning when we choose -ing/to after certain verbs.

I tried to explain it to her - implies you made an attempt (but it may not have succeeded).
I tried explaining it in other ways - shows that you experimented with other means/ways (to see if they would help).

I tried to open the door, but it was locked.
A. My computer's not working....
B. Try plugging it in! (Sounds like an extract from the I.T crowd!)

Other common verbs that can cause confusion are the 'old favourites' stop, remember, forget....

They all stopped talking when I came in. - discontinue an activity
I stopped to talk to my neighbour on the street. - stop in order to do / for the purpose of doing something else

I remembered to buy the card, but I forgot to give it to her. The order of actions = first remember then buy / first forget, so don't give
Remember to / forget to = forward looking in time

I remember seeing her face for the first time...I was smitten from that moment. The order of actions = first see, then remember.
I'll never forget seeing him fall... it's burned in my memory forever! First see, then never forget.
Remember +ing / (not) forget +ing = retrospective or backward-looking in time.

Thus, with a few verbs such as these, the meaning differences do matter.

Professional Teacher at Amazing Grace School
I also agree with you Dianna and KR. We just don't teach the grammatical structure but also giving an opportunity to ESL learners understand the grammatical function as well. As a result, they are more confident to use the language.

Lecturer of English at The State Islamic University Sunan Ampel Surabaya
To simplify the matter, usually I explain the differences this way. When the verbs (such as, remember, forget, stop, etc) are followed by V-ing, it implies that the action (expressed by the V-ing) happened before remembering, forgetting, stopping, etc. E.g. I stopped reading when she arrived. It implies that the activity of reading had been happening before I stopped it. But, when the verbs are followed by to-V, it implies that action (expressed by to-V) happens after remembering, forgetting, stopping, etc. E.g. "I stopped to get some drink" means that I stopped doing activity, such as driving for example, in order to get some drink.
Dianna HenshawAnna A. and 2 others like this


The second verb as ‘-ing’ and ‘to-infinitive’
• Both may be used without any difference in meaning after begin, start, continue
He began to read/reading. He started to work/working. He continued to walk/walking

Only these verbs can be used as to-infinitives: know, realise, think, understand
I began to realise mistake. She continued to think about the refugee problem.
Gradually I began to understand the problem.

• A to-infinitive is more common than an –ing after attempt, intend, can’t bear
Don’t attempt to lift the bag by yourself. I don’t intend to leave soon.
I can’t bear to see my daughter crying.

• I tried sleeping without a pillow for a week. (experimented)
He tried to sleep but without success. (attempted)

• I propose to play for West Bengal. (intend)
I propose waiting till the police get here. (suggest)

• I meant to ring you but forgot. (intended)
I shall get at the truth even if it means antagonising my superior. (involves)

• I used to smoke. = I don’t smoke now.
I’m used to standing in queues.= I’m in the habit of standing in queues.