Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 4--ELT Professionals Around the World

Please visit Post 68 and come back here. Thank you.
Discussions--Series 4
Topic 41  
Anyone come across a rule for when to use [verb] + [inf.] vs [verb] + [pres. part.] ?
Ferd Roseboom(an untitled life in progress)

Apart from introducing the complexity of elipsis---'that' clause, or present participle omission, are students simply expected to memorize seemingly random* verb lists the way they learn conjugations? Merely by exposure and practice, for example, are they expected to know that while they can say:
<Begin/Start to do something.> or <Begin/Start doing s.t.>, they can't say <End/Finish to do s.t.>.
<I like/hate eating seafood.> or < I like/hate to eat seafood.>, they can't say <I enjoy/detest to eat s.f.>

* There do appear to be distinct categories of verbs that (exclusively) precedes infinitives vs those that (exclusively) precede present participles, at least to me, but I haven't found a grammar book yet that states so. If you have, please share. Even with conjugations, there are patterns but less obvious when publishers merely alphabetize them.

"A verray, parfit praktisour" of English and IT

The subject is a bit too intricate to go into here. Zandvoort, 'A Handbook of English Grammar', devotes a whole chapter - 27 pages - to the 'Gerund and Present Participle, of which 10 pages to the strict use of the gerund following certain verbs; verbs followed by either gerund or infinitive and the strict use of the inifitive following a different group of verbs.
A very useful survey is given in Thomson & Martinet, 'A Practical English Grammar'. Type this in in Google, and the very first entry is that particular book (4th ed.). Look at Section 24: the gerund, in all its glory ...
Abel O. likes this

@Will: It seems you missed my point. I"m not looking for lists---grammar books all provide them---I'm looking for insights into why words fall into one category or another. As I've said, I've done my own analysis and see definite distinctions and classes among them but I pity the poor student exposed to Zandvoort's 'principal' lists---for all those 10 pages, they're not even exhaustive!

Seems I have (or not quite understood). The respective verbs form a mixed bag of connotations, so trying to pigeon-hole them would be harder to grasp than simply memorizing them. Some of the remaining verbs can then be dealt with from the perfective or imperfective (durative) aspect.

But maybe someone else, having grasped your intention, can lend a helping hand...
Ferd Roseboom likes this

Am I the only one who considers this much simpler than grammar books would have us believe? We know that verbs can be followed by present participles, infinitives, or both but does it not seem those followed by present participles express more of the durative aspect associated with continuous tense? Here's how I'd group them (I'd appreciate your feedback):


a) Duration-oriented: Regarding the beginning, duration, or ending of an activity:
avoid, continue, complete, accomplish, celebrate, delay, finish, keep, go on, give up, miss, skip, cancel, observe, stop, start

b) Imagination-oriented: When an activity in progress is imagined (related to duration)
think, agree, deny, pretend, show, depict, conceive, imagine, portray

c) Feeling-related: When an activity is imagined along with a feeling (duration-related)
admit, adore, deny, can't stand, hate, enjoy, reject, like, mind, dislike

d) Advice-related: When an activity is imagined, (again, duration-related)
suggest, advise, propose, recommend, insist,

e) (am I missing something?)

Perception, Intention, Decision or Conclusion Related
agree, appear, arrange, attempt, choose, claim, decide, expect, fail, forget, hope, intend, learn, manage, need, offer, prepare, pretend, promise, refuse, seem, wait, want, wish, think

WORDS BELONGING TO BOTH (Is this not just a matter of sense (meaning) differences?)
think to [v] (intend) / think [pres part] (imagine)
remember to [v] (intend/decide) /remember [pres part] (imagine)
pretend to [v] (intend) / pretend [pres part] (imagine)
stop to [v] (intend) / stop [pres part] (duration)
continue to [v] (intend) / continue [pres part] (duration)

I haven't looked at any complete list yet to confirm my categorization, but it seems this is a much simpler way of helping students than handing them lists of seemingly random verbs to memorize.

Top Contributor

I'm going to jump in here with: These verbs all can take the direct object, which is what they do in the examples. However, DO is not required for these verbs.
It seems that the -ing V2 use has more elements of DO than the 'to (simple form V2)'.

<It seems that the -ing V2 use has more elements of DO than the 'to (simple form V2)'.>

Not sure what you mean but does it relate to stress differences between verbs? It did cross my mind given the stress difference in continuous tenses but I don't think the participle receives any more stress than the infinitive. From what little I understand about prosody however, the effect of 2 adjacent strong syllables alone may provide that affect. I don't know:

Iambic Pentameter: ☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻
1 syllable [v] + [inf.]: ☺☻☺☻....
1 syllable [v] + [pp]: ☺☻☻☺....

<stress differences between verbs>

I guess I should think what the necessary elements are for Direct Object. In the meantime, I understand there are meaning differences signalled by stress in a sentence. My question to myself, then, is "What are the differences in stress, if any, between the PP and Inf forms of these DO comlements, or in the prosody of the sentence as a whole; and what do they have to
do with the type of verb that precedes each?

I don't know what's wrong, but my adrenaline seems to spike when I think about this.
Ferd Roseboom likes this

Perhaps then, on behalf of your students, you too are motivated by the search for simplicity and clarity, not the 27 pages of lists and exceptions' lists that Zandvoort et al generate in order to retain their ivory tower tenure.

After having memorized all 27 pages ( and many, many more, for that matter), I think I am allowed to say that my command of the English language is quite acceptable.

There are many circumstances in which you have to instantly come up (split infinitive!) with the correct grammatical form. In such cases I simply rely on what has become embedded in my memory, rather than looking for some semantic underpinning of the verb I want to use in a particular infinitive or gerund construct.

Is there a 'better', more 'intuitive' way to pick the correct case following prepositions like 'aus - bei - mit - nach - seit - von - zu - ...' in German?

Or the 'calf-half-dwarf,elf-self-shelf,life-knife-wife,leaf-thief-sheaf,loaf,wolf' that take '-ves' in the plural? Let alone many more mnemonics I learnt myself and taught to my students.

<After having memorized all 27 pages>
<I simply rely on what has become embedded in my memory>

Countless students around the world do just that---trying to memorize copious amounts of grammar rules and vocabulary lists for examination purposes but in doing so the gap between passive awareness and active recall widens to the point of communicative incompetence. I question the degree to which you assimilated (rather than simply memorized what you'd read from those texts) into your active language repertoire.

From birth humans are natural pattern recognizers---we love figuring out things for ourselves and making use of such knowledge rather than simply being lectured to. Appreciation of this fact---that people learn best by doing---has led to a shift away from (grammar) instruction to one of discovery- or task-based teaching. That's not to say one can't learn by studying alone but retention rates increase when there's active and (inter)personal engagement with the material.

<Is there a 'better', more 'intuitive' way to pick the correct case following prepositions like 'aus - bei - mit - nach - seit - von - zu - ...' in German?>

I don't know German but for the English, there's an obvious pattern that teachers, through controlled exposure and elicitation, can draw to students' attention and follow up with practice.

Where many teachers fail in my opinion, is by not providing the same for exceptions to rules, perhaps out of fear that it will only confuse students. Could this be why irregular verb conjugation lists are only ever alphabetized? I teach them as patterned sets and their exceptions: know/knew/known, grow/grew/grown, know/knew/known, but 'fly', (not flow)/flew/flown. When I made picture/vocabulary flashcards for kids, I did something that I'd never seen done in ELT---I made both the rule and exception visually explicit for irregular nouns and non-count nouns. What we most take for granted in our own language can be the most difficult habit to acquire for learners of our language.

<Is there a 'better', more 'intuitive' way>

I don't know. Some rules can be so out of reach that it's best to just memorize the instances involved. When it comes to verbs and their semantic underpinnings, though, I think the brainwork is worth the effort to come up with some unifying law, or more modestly, rule. The brief journey in the present discussion has given me some very worthwhile bricks in my house of grammar.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

Teacher at Oulu-Opisto
I devised an A3 sheet of paper where I put all the forms in a single sheet of paper. At least the adults have praised me for doing a sheet that shows all the forms in one. Like (1) I have nothing TO DO. (2a) "I saw him come." (2b) "I saw him coming." and (3) I enjoy swimming. I guess Linked In doesn't allow attachments here.

You should be commended given the 27 pages Zandvoort requires for only 'principal' verbs!!! But if I were your student, I wouldn't share your students enthusiasm. Such a comprehensive list would intimidate me---the thought of having to rote memorize which verb belongs to which group(s). Of course, the value of a resource lies less in what it is than how you use it so personally, I can think of no better use for it than guided discovery. Is that what you do with it?

Academic Coordinator Resources & DoS Support International House World Organisation
I wrote this blog post just for you!
Enjoy and please let me know what you think...

I sometimes tell my students about an optimist and a pessimist going on a journey. The optimist keeps asking: When to leave? Where to go? What to take with us? Who to take with us? The pessimist has only one question: Why bother?

Teacher at Oulu-Opisto
Ferd; I only put in my A3 sheet of paper those instances that were in their grammar book. The problem is that grammar books change over time and there are different verbs in each. And I would also present it with juxtaposing verbs, for example, and passive structures etc.

@Jani: Instead of transferring your dependency on grammar texts to your students, why not instill confidence instead? Build on what they already know--elicit from them the distinction between the (bare) infinitive and present participle and how they're used in the simple vs continuous tenses, and then guide them into MAKING THEIR OWN LISTS from examples.

<<The whole debate between verb+ing and infinitive use is one that has raged for years, with most course book stating there is no rule and we need to learn each possibility as a collocation. >> ---Neil McMahon (from his blog)

Really!? Are you suggesting that grammaticians see no difference between the use of <I like swimming.> and <I like to swim.>, or why <I'd like swimming.> is incorrect. I find that hard to believe but as Parrott states: <<In a small number of cases (for example, after begin and start) it makes NO DIFFERENCE whether we choose an infinitive or an -ing form.>> While teachers might be forgiven for telling students that, or that there's no difference between <going to> and <will>, Parrott's book is 'Grammar for Language TEACHERS'.

But I can see how the debate may have come about. Without appreciating the difference that you and I intuitively grasp, that same author comes up with rules that neither make sense nor conform to language use (LET THIS BE A WARNING TO YOU, JANI):

<<When we can choose between an infinitive and an -ing form, we sometimes choose the infinitive in order to stress that something is more speculative or hypothetical - it usually implies looking forward. We choose an -ing form more to describe what actually happens or has happened.
"It's bad for you to do exercise straight after a meal."
(So, if you were thinking about doing some exercise, perhaps you shouldn't.)
Doing exercise straight after a meal is bad for you." (statement of fact)>>

But the rule fails to explain why the following verbs are usually followed by the present participle: contemplate, consider, think, think about, suggest, propose, etc

Another oversight by Parrott is this rule:
<<After try we use an infinitive to suggest some kind of effort or difficulty involved in an action.
"They tried to persuade their daughter not to smoke.">>

What's wrong with the arguably more common: <They tried persuading...>?

Academic Coordinator Resources & DoS Support International House World Organisation
I think you'll find my rules explain these uses Ferd...

@Neil: Yes, they do indeed, and you certainly deserve credit for being the first (that I know of) to point this out, and with even greater simplicity and clarity than I have! I'm still attached to my Group 1 subcategories though---I confess to being somewhat of a datahead myself. ;-{

What's your take on my question regarding stress difference between verbs? Do you think with the infinitive, the first verb generally receives more stress and with the -ing form the -ing verb receives more stress? Of course it would be helpful to listen to recordings of oral concordances to statistically compare but it would support our assertion about where the focus of meaning resides (between these two verbs):

1. syllable [v] + [inf.]: ○☻○ • ... She LIKES to eat...
1 syllable [v] + [v+ -ing]: ○ • ☻○.... I hate DOing....
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

No idea why you're even asking the question, Ferd. Both verbs are stressed since they are content words (main verbs). It really does;t matter which carries more stressed, unless you're emphasising one of them due to the context and then it's obvious to everyone which you're stressing.

May I suggest you think of other things to get stressed about? :)

<Both verbs are stressed>

I guess I got too impacted when presented with the possibility that intonation, in this case stress, could produce meaning. Reading the posts led me to think intonation, even without lexis, could produce meaning.

But I'm still stuck on the composition of the Direct Objects for the 'to + V' and the '-ing' verb. It's a semantic difference somewhere, of course, but how to explain it? Does anyone know Chomsky's sentence trees enough to show a difference?
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

<It really does;t matter which carries more stressed,...> ---Neil

How can you say that knowing how subtle changes in sentence stress significantly affect meaning? No need to knock ELT academics again though. Just because ELT books only ever seem to acknowledge a single sentence stress or nucleus within a tone group as affecting meaning, shouldn't be construed as indicating stress differences between all other content words 'don't matter'.

@Nelson: I'm not sure how <the composition of the direct objects> relates to this thread. Are you suggesting the (presence of a) direct object or how it's stressed determines the choice of [v]+ing / to+[v], or determines which of the 2 preceding verbs is stressed? Please explain.

<direct object or how it's stressed>

No, the DO is the verbal itself, or the verbal phrase. 'I like (what?) [eating shellfish]. Trying to see what stress is involved in the two forms, and how it relates to the (sometimes subtle) difference in meaning.

Lecturer at South-West College

Looking for rules to lean on in English is like looking for hen's teeth, most of the time.
I usually tell people that most verbs take the infinitive to follow, and Europeans relate to this very well. There is a small group of verbs, mostly of emotion. that are followed by the -ing form.........I can issue a short list of these.........and then there are make, let, and the modals which take the infinitive without 'to'.

There are others, of course, as spoken about above, and we deal with these as they come up, with lots of examples, I think they are best remembered in this way. I minimise lists.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

@Nelson: Thanks. I'm still not in the habit of thinking of a gerund (?) phrase as a 'direct object'. Is an infinitive one too? Even the term 'infinitive' seems a misnomer and someone sent me an 'in'mail stating 'present participle' is the wrong term which is why I've resorted to using '-ing' form. Is it not ironic that linguists cannot come up with or agree on more descriptive naming conventions?

@Bridget: It seems you've missed my point. It's Zandevoort, Swan et al that fill pages with lists and arbitrary, even erroneous* rules. All Neil and I are suggesting is there's a simple way to understand the distinction which students should already be familiar with.

*Unless of course there's a difference between UK/EU and N.A English that I haven't noticed because where I'm from the list for the -ing form is neither short nor mostly regarding emotion:

acknowledge consider endure admit delay enjoy advise deny escape appreciate detest explain avoid discontinue feel like can't help discuss finish celebrate dislike forgive give up imagine justify keep mention mind miss postpone prevent prohibit resist recall risk recommend suggest support report tolerate resent understand
Rod Mitchell likes this

Network Administrator (part-time) at Vseobecna odborna skola mise a teologie
My 2 bits... verb = action, so 2 verbs = 2 actions. What I have noticed is that in most cases where the action of the second verb follows the action of the first verb, then the second verb is in the infinitive:

I hope to win - first I hope, then (maybe) I win
I remembered to lock the door - first I remembered, then I locked the door

On the other hand, when the action of the second verb happens at the same time as the first verb, or even precedes it, then the second verb uses the present participle -ing form.
(I don't actually care what the 'official' name is; this form has a variety of uses in English, and it is probably simplest just to call it the -ing form :-) )

I enjoy eating chocolate - I enjoy it at the same time as I eat it
I remember locking the door - first I locked the door, then I remember that I did it.

@John: Love the simplicity. I'm just not sure it works with the above list of verbs.

@Ferd - I did say "most cases". In your list the main problems with the rule I suggested seem to be with feel like, consider, imagine, postpone, prevent, prohibit, suggest and recommend, which all refer to future actions (I could try wriggling and saying that when you imagine something it is present in your mind - but that would be very special pleading). What these verbs do have in common is that they all require a direct object, which of course means that if the object is a verb, then it has to be in the -ing form. So maybe in this case the very strong pattern <verb> <object> overrides the weaker timing rule. Thanks for helping me clarify my thinking!
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

You are very welcome! I still think prefer what John and I came up with but both theories need to be put to the test to ensure we avoid the gross oversight that Zandevoort made.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

@ John. At least for the following verbs your theory works, although I have put past infinitive in some of them:

I admit not having done my homework, but that’s because I have always
disliked studying at home. I usually enjoy speaking English, but I can’t stand
trying to speak when I am tired. I fancy travelling to England next summer
so that I could practise talking more fluently. It is also true that I can’t help
singing in the shower, but I deny *having ever played my guitar there. I
wouldn’t like to risk destroying the instrument. I think I keep singing and
hope my neighbours won’t mind me opening the window as well. The other
day I couldn’t avoid falling off my bike day and I couldn’t escape feeling
embarrased. My friends say I should quit cycling during winter, but I bet I
would miss seeing the first rays of sun one winter morning. I hope I can be
excused *having never cycled to Spain like my friend did years ago.

There are also cases where to is omitted.
Please, let me explain.
I’ll have my brother fix the computer.
Ferd Roseboom likes this

<gerund (?) phrase as a 'direct object'>

Oh, now I have to think about whether all gerund phrases in this environment have the DO case? Would you say in 'Eating is fun', that 'Eating' is a subject? Can we call it nominative in case?
Bridget Maguire likes this

I think John Connor just took the prize. I have something to think about for a while.

<it has to be in the -ing form>

'I want to walk.' What do I want? [DO] to walk
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

"I want to walk" fits the time rule - first you want, then you walk - but not the direct object rule - "I want something", so why not "I want walking"? Chalk it up to English irregularity - after all, a language which started off as a mixture of Germanic languages, Scandinavian languages and French, and has since been influenced by up to 40 other languages, is going to be a bit of a mish-mash :-)

Re. the -ing List, the Gerund-after-the-verb-list, (see Ferd's post above,) is the American English List of these longer than the European list?
I am not conversant with American English really, so all you US guys out there? what's the story?

Re Nelson's Direct Object idea, I like it. I want WHAT? surely the answer is always a Direct Object/Akkusative whether it is a verb, a Gerund or a noun????? Orias this heresy?? I want TO SLEEP/ my mamma/ a coffee/ a swimming pool..........
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

@Bridget - the specific problem with verbs is that normally when we want to use them as a noun, we use the -ing form:

e.g. Thinking is hard work, he enjoys thinking, he has a special room for thinking (prepositions expect a noun, so verbs after prepositions always use -ing)

So logically we should say "I want sleeping" - except we don't, the correct form is of course "I want to sleep" - hence Ferd's question which started this off.

Don't worry about "heresy" in English - it's a living, growing language, and grammar is really just an attempt at describing some of the internal patterns of the language. I suppose the challenge for us as teachers is to teach an explicit grammar which is close enough to the unconscious grammar used by most speakers, so that the student can communicate effectively.

<the direct object rule>

I use 'I want what?'. I guess we have to go to Latin to see the case. Except case endings on verbs? uh, Sanskrit?

(an untitled life in progress)
<<But I'm still stuck on the composition of the Direct Objects for the 'to + V' and the '-ing' verb. It's a semantic difference somewhere, of course, but how to explain it? >> --Nelson

Then let's recap.
What Neil and I propose is:

GROUP 1: V+ [-ing form]: Similar to how continuous tense differs from present, the focus is on the progressive nature of the -ing form [regardless of what you call it]. I've gone beyond Neil in categorizing the nature of the verbs to show how sense differences allow for verbs such as 'think' to belong in both categories. What's still to be determined is whether stress differences should and do support our claim.

GROUP 2: V+ Infinitive: Is this form any different than simple present? That's the claim I make when I argue it's perception, intention, Decision or Conclusion-Related.
Perception: It's cold. || It appears TO BE cold. You seem to know.
Intention / Decision / Conclusion: I want to.. I have to... I need to... I promise to... I hope to... I like to... I arrange to.... I refuse to....
What John proposes (if I understand correctly) is:

GROUP 1: V+ [-ing form]: Either simultaneous (or imagined future) action.

GROUP 2: V+ Infinitive: Sequential action: infinitive action follows 1st verb (in most cases).
If the <direct object rule> offers up an explanation, Nelson, you'll have to spell it out for me. The problem Jani has with John's Group 1 rule is it doesn't account for verbs such as 'admit' and the problem I have with John's second rule is much the same---it's not comprehensive as John himself admits.

But along with Neil and myself, John deserves a prize for pursuing a simpler explanation than grammar book authors present. Oddly enough, one such author, Michael Swan, doesn't even recommend consulting grammar books, perhaps for the reasons similar to mine:
<<Unfortunately there is no easy way to decide which verbs, adjectives and nouns are followed by -ing forms, and which are followed by infinitives. It is best to check in a good dictionary.>>

Having read all again, I think I'll go for John's explanation, it covers a multitude, and is easy to explain and understand.
What doesn't fit, Jani, shall we just explain off as the "loose cannons" in the English Grammar, which as we know cross up with troublesome frequency?

"come up"............I meant
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

<the <direct object rule> offers up an explanation>

Thank you Ferd for your explanation again. It's sinking in, to a place I could use it to explain to students. I think the clue is the 'ongoing' part. If I magnify my 'thoughts as pictures (or videos)' idea, I could go through a lot of examples in contemplation.

The 'preceding action' explanation is pretty exciting.

OK, so I guess it falls on me to delicately extract the semantic elements of the -ing DO that are not in the 'to + V' version, and vice versa. The elements will be of a DO nature.

Or I could ask my syntax prof.

Then consider what meaning -ing form imparts to all other contexts where it's used. Here are rare passive grammatical forms, that by their obscurity, may help to make the -ing meaning explicit:
<Where's my shirt? - It must be being washed. > (to) have been being done
<Why did you run? - I might have been being followed. > (to) have been being done

<I want to get to know you.> Where's the sequential action? Is it not just one intention?
<I denied taking his phone.> Are these not 2 sequential actions?

<other contexts>

'I tried eating the soup' (and I didn't like it).
'I tried to eat the soup' (but I couldn't make myself do it).

One shows the action having taken place. I know I jimmied the parenthetical segue to show this, but there are two definite and distinct conceptual results. Now to do a corpus search and see which form goes with which, percentagewise. Next . . ?

Agreed. Google returns 155 million hits for 'tried to' + 'couldn't, but it lacks the capability of concordance software to locate 'tried + [-ing] form.

54,000 to 6,000 for 'to' after tried and -ing after tried, respectively. (Brigham Young U. corpus)
What was the question? Oh yeah, to see which of these has a particular conceptual content. See you in 2017.

teacher at Education nationale
I like this simple explanation : "the ING" form only signals the message points to the speaker.
You are certainly aware I read Culioli.

3,630,000,000 hits for "tried*ing" ('tried' + nothing or a lot + 'ing'); 1,650,000,000 for "tried*ing*couldn't"


That's some fancy database. Can you list, say, 1000 or so at a time, for example to see whether the verb's action has actually taken place? It'd be interesting to see how many of the -ing instances, versus how many of the 'to V' instances, had actions that were carried out, for any length of time.
'I tried eating' vs. 'I tried to eat'
It could be that context determines whether actions are carried out or not, for both, but also one form could be being used more than the other for actions carried out, than for actions contemplated but not carried out.
It sounds a little fragile but it might pan out even with a lot of caveats.

A search for uses of 'try' netted a YouTube video of a teacher distinguishing between the imperative use: 'Try to do' (= attempt), and 'Try doing' (= experiment).

If you've read the thread questioning whether true or absolute synonyms exist, you may have read the 'economic' argument I dug up against the notion. It seems languages by necessity create distinctions where none originally exist. Why? Have you read the other current thread on foreignisms English hasn't yet adopted (what other language even comes close to English for it's wealth of borrowings)? Does it not prove the limitations of language to fully express ourselves when especially the most articulate among us rely more on voice, body language, facial expressions? Native speakers who've never taught English may be forgiven for considering something like 'will' and 'going to' or the infinitive and -ing form to be true synonyms, but grammar book authors?

I wonder whether this is not an example of something we should pick up through experience?

I always say to my students that English is full of language and usage that we just learn through experience and that once you have certain basics it is up to the student to go out and listen and read voraciously to pick up that experience . After all that is what we all did. The fact that a rule is difficult to come by must support this. Native speakers just don't know all the rules, why should non-native speakers have to?

If they are students that have achieved the level of knowledge where this is important to them they must be able to study text on their own. Students just need to be shown the possible forms and some examples and then they can take responsibility for their own development. Get a book and start reading.

I'm not sure if I have worded all this very well, but I'm sure you will understand my perspective.

Thanks everyone for treating me and others to a scholarly analysis of the structures in question.

I'm a non-native user of English and I've been only in non-native environments. I learnt English as a literature subject in school and college. I began to teach English literature to undergraduates and later English language to school students in Ethiopia and Nigeria. In the meantime, I read fiction and non-fiction in thousands, I watched hundreds of English films. This is how I've grown as a user of English which has been my first language for almost half a century.

Sorry for the long introduction. What I mean to say is I seem to have got the hang of it without being conscious about the choice between 'present participle' and 'to-infinitive'. Of course I may have chosen one for the other on occasion. But generally speaking, my subconscious has done the job for me, I guess.

Of course there's always the dictionary to refer to when in doubt. But what if you had no doubt at all and yet chose the unidiomatic structure?--I can hear the question. Well, I think
I 'll have to learn the hard way through the body language of the listener, provided the listener knows the right structure!

To a French learner, the ING form in all occurrences we are talking about, is simple to explain because this ING form will be translated into what we call a "Gallicism" = a very French formula in communication: We introduce the verbal group with a "C'est MOI qui" formula ("c'est moi qui" ai essayé/ "c'est moi qui" ai mangé..), a twist Culioli refers to as "fléchage vers le sujet", i.e. the narrator's intention to emphasize what he has been going through, lived, experienced and felt all along.

<c'est moi qui" ai mangé>

You can say that in English : It is I who have eaten (the cake). Or, more commonly, It's me who ate the cake.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

teacher at Education nationale
To me, there no enunciative equivalence between the English formula: "It is I who have eaten // It's me who ate... " with the French "C'est moi qui". A French person using "c'est moi qui' won't appear heavy nor awkard. It's very a common place fomula; to such an extent that when it's not used, the message seems unlikely, flat, cold, "out of place". I find Culioli's explanation very true to what I experience while listening to English or French speakers. The ING formula brings the warmth and liveliness the French put in "c'est moi qui".

<It's very a common place formula>

I know what you mean, Elizabeth. It's like when the captain told Tintin "It's not from me that you will learn that the villain's name is Mr. Dubois."
Although 'It's me who ate' is pretty informal and warm, though many people would not say it.

"the captain told Tintin"
Who is the "captain" there ? Who is Tintin there ? is Tintin the 'Villain', whose first nane whould be Elisabeth? And last name Mr. Dubois? Which theories are we in there? I can't follow on this line. We are far from D. Lewis', Grice's, Ducrot's,Maingueneau's and Culioli's principles.

No no. I am referring to one of the Tintin books I read at the Lycee. The captain is only the captain in the story, and Tintin himself. I was quoting from one of the stories, although I don't remember if the last name was Dubois. I would have to look it up but I don't think it was. It was the first name that unconsciously came to my mind. It is not you Elisabeth.
cc: M. Grice et al.

Oops. It wasn't the captain who said that. It was one of the Dupont et Dupond detectives. Sorry.

<The ING formula brings the warmth and liveliness the French put in "c'est moi qui".>

So, elisabeth, would you translate these sentences differently than Google does?
I like to drink French wine. Google's translation: J'aime boire du vin français.
I like drinking French wine. Google's translation: J'aime boire du vin français.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

Yes, Ferd, I would stress the presence of the narrator in the 2nd message by adding "Moi" and/or/ a feeling, such as "bon". Ex: "Moi, j'aime boire du "bon" vin français, because adding such "fléchages vers le sujet" words in the French syntax is the only pragmatical device my voice can dispose of to bring some liveliness to the message, wihout sounding excessively present (we know the English speaker's voice will put more emphasis in the 2 nd message). Google takes no risk. Anyway, "Traduire, c'est toujours trahir un peu", isn't it?
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

<I like drinking French wine>

It seems that this sentence brings the action into a better defined sense of reality than the 'to' sentence, in that the 'ing' brings a duration of time, and the listener participates in temporal movement in the action.

I would substitute Elisabeth's 'warmth' with 'intensity'.

Given there's little warmth associated with 'detest, hate or avoid, 'intensity' better encapsulates that mix of 'duration + imagination + feeling' that I originally came up with.

No one's yet challenged my assertion that the (VERB +) INFINITIVE, by contrast, expresses perceptions, intentions, decisions, (and I would add) truths, (objective) thoughts, and factual advice. Does it not explain why 'can, may, care, want, will, would' are followed by the (bare) infinitive?

And what about the future with 'going to + verb' or is it really 'going + INFINITIVE'? Does it not express both concepts together? As one grammar book expresses it, this future form, unlike 'will' connects an earlier intention with a future action. The intention is expressed as the infinitive but 'going' expresses duration: the fact the execution of the intention is currently underway.

For those subscribing to the Lateralized Brain dichotomy, you might conceive of V + ING as Right Brain functioning and V + INF as Left Brain.

Ferd and Neil are on the right track.

1) grammar books are based on the structural tradition, which overcomplicates because, by focusing on structure, it ends up giving lists of the items that enter into structures without explaining the semantics of the structures themselves.

Ferd and Neil’s approach fit into functional-cognitive linguistics by focusing on the meaning/semantics of the structures.

2) the distinction is much simpler than grammar books would have us believe.

Group 1 (avoid, continue, complete, accomplish, celebrate, delay, finish, keep, go on, give up, miss, skip, cancel, observe, stop, start; think, agree, deny, pretend, show, depict, conceive, imagine, portray; admit, adore, deny, can't stand, hate, enjoy, reject, like, mind, dislike; suggest, advise, propose, recommend, insist)

These are NOT duration-oriented – they are activity oriented. We refer to the verb activity. The sub-groups are merely sub-categories of verbs around certain semantics; the function (meaning) of the verb-ing construction is the same in all cases.

He has finished working : the activity of working is finished.

While working, he noticed … : during the activity of working.

He continued working : he was doing the activity of working, and he went on working.

He can’t stand people watching him while he’s working : he can’t stand the activity of people watching him.

GROUP 2 (agree, appear, arrange, attempt, choose, claim, decide, expect, fail, forget, hope, intend, learn, manage, need, offer, prepare, pretend, promise, refuse, seem, wait, want, wish, think)

One error is to treat to-verb as the infinitive, rather than say "to+infintive". “To” shows that there is a physical or abstract movement towards a goal with expectation arrival:

He went to New York – a physical movement towards and arriving at a goal (= destination)

He has come to see John – a physical movement towards with an expectation of arriving at the goal (seeing/meeting John)

He hopes to get a good job – an abstract movement towards a goal (getting a good job) with a more positive than negative expectation of getting a good job.

The infinitive on its own does not have this “goal” orientation:

He must go : the action “go” is absolutely necessary – it does not matter if going is his goal or not.

We heard the pin drop : the action “drop” happened – it does not matter if we wanted it to drop or not.

The other error in the grammar books is to focus on the main verb rather than on context. Verb-ing appears when the activity is focused on, and to-verb when a goal is in question.

Perception : he was thought to be a good man : the goal is the desire to believe that he was a good man – there is however no certainty about him being a good man. The goal of the writer/speaker is to take us to that belief.

Intention : he managed to save up enough money to buy a new house : his goal was to buy a new house, and he succeeded through a fair bit of difficulty to get to his goal.

Group 3 : WORDS BELONGING TO BOTH (this is probably the biggest group) – and is indeed a matter of sense (meaning/semantics) – but not because of the main verb changing its meaning [this is a myth], which is what the grammar books often say, but because of the activity (verb-ing = imagine/duration, etc.) versus goal (to-verb = intend) difference (i.e. the context).

<it seems this is a much simpler way of helping students than handing them lists of seemingly random verbs to memorize>
Having put it into practice many a time, it is a much simpler way of helping students. Learning lists only works for those students whose brains are wired that way – and this is a relatively small minority.
Ferd Roseboom likes this

Neil McMahon's article - pretty-well on the nose. Definitely on the right track.

<<Chomsky's sentence trees>>

Depending on how you use these, they would show that the verb-ing phrase is an NP (and often a nominalised verb or VP), and that the to+infinitive is a prepositional phrase (with the infinitive being a nominalised verb or VP).

TO be more specific - verb-ing would be an activity NP, and the to+infinitive a prepositional phrase expressing goal.
Ferd Roseboom likes this

'Eating is fun' : we can call 'eating' nominative in case in case grammar.

<Chalk it up to English irregularity - after all, a language which started off as a mixture of Germanic languages, Scandinavian languages and French, and has since been influenced by up to 40 other languages, is going to be a bit of a mish-mash>

Another couple of myths - English is not a mixture of Germanic languages - it is one Germanic language which came to England in three groups that spoke slightly different dialects of the same Germanic language, with later influence from another Germanic language (in two slightly different dialects - Norwegian Norse and Danish Norse), with follow-on influence mainly from French and Latin - and mainly words with a little grammatical influence in these cases.

It's structure is overwhelmingly Germanic, and has parallels in all the Germanic languages (including the verb-ing / to+infinitive contrast), and its working Romance (French/Latin) vocabulary is around 35% of any spoken or written text.
Ferd Roseboom likes this

"I want sleeping" : because the context is goal-oriented (here intention/desire), the the verb-ing form logically cannot appear.

HOWEVER - there are dialects of English (in the UK, Australia, etc.) where "want" fits into the group of verbs that can have both the to+infintive and verb-ing, just as "need" does:

This engine wants a good overhaul.
This hub wants greasing.
That naughty kids wants clipping round the ear'ole.

("want" originally meant "lack" - as is the use in "she looked deep in his eyes and found him wanting" - meaning lacking that special thing that would make him a perfect person; this meaning "lack" evolved to "need", which is still a part of the meaning of "want").

The verb-ing shows that an activity is necessary/wanted, but that the subject (the hub / the kid) doesn't want the activity.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

Can, may, will, would, etc. are followed by the (bare) infinitive because goal-orientation is not part of their semantics; they have other semantics:

can : have an ability
may : it is possible
will : it is probable (etc.)
must : it is absolutely necessary

BUT – “care” – I don’t care to do that – my goal is to avoid doing that, which is why “to” appears.

“be going to” expresses goal-semantics based on (1) present evidence of what we feel is definite for the future, and (2) what someone definitely intends to do in the future.

President evidence showing what we feel is definite for the future:

Look at those black clouds! It’s going to rain!
He’s going to win!

Definite intention:

He’s going to leave on Monday.
She’s going to be a politician when she grows up. She decided.

“going” also does show that the intention expressed, or the evidence we see/feel is happening now. It is a present activity.

But this is true for the expression of the future in English; as we don’t have a future tense, we use present and past tense verbs to give different feelings about the future.

Thanks for the clarity, Rod and I agree that 'activity-oriented' is a better term for Group 1 than 'duration-oriented' and for Group 2, I guess intention, goal, purpose, or aim could all be used.
Rod Mitchell likes this

<an earlier intention>

I can understand this, though not the necessity of it. I don't know about the -ing form expression being for something currently underway.
Cute the right brain with -ing. It's a good starting point to find out if true.
Rod Mitchell likes this

<the infinitive being a nominalised verb or VP>

Thank you. I'm halfway there. Just need to see where they start out, and end up (and how they move).

Can, may, will, would, etc. are followed by the (bare) infinitive... It's interesting to read our various positions on the issue initiated by Ferd. When we hold a position on an issue", we may select different linguistic devices. Thus, modals (can, may, must...) are some of the available devices languages have forged to point to the presence of a subject in a given verbal form. Modals express the subject's position, "mode", bias, construct on what the verb refers to. As for the ING form on any sentence component, it can be parallelled to the function a "scene" plays in a story (as opposed to what a summary or an ellispse will do). Both devices, (ING and scene), and each at their different level, mean "time", "life", feelings" are what really matter most in the message/story.
Rod Mitchell likes this

A rewrite:

I like to drink French wine. Je préfère boire du vin française / J'aime boire le vin français / Ma préférence c'est le~du vin français.

I like drinking French wine. J'aime boire du vin français / Boire du vin français me plaît.

"Both devices, (ING and scene), and each at their different level, mean "time", "life", feelings" are what really matter most in the message/story." (and the rest of what Elisabeth wrote) - context [time/environment/etc.]/feelings [mood/understanding/interpersonal relationships/etc.] are important parts of the "why" of language use - the most important parts probably.

This is where the structural (Chomskyan) approach to langauge analysis falls down. Because it is based on computational analysis (and ultimately on applied mathematics/logic), then the "why" of language use was downplayed to something that is "based on interpretation", and therefore things "based on interpretated" are not to be trusted, as different people can have different interpretations.

What this preception unfortunately created was a mind-set that therefore semantics/meaning cannot be analysed, that a structure like "verb-ing" or "to+verb" can only be analysed by looking at structural clues. The same "mistake" in analysis goes for phrasal verbs, prepositions, the uses of articles - a host of areas.

Where functional-cognitive linguistics comes in is, even though they have a structuralist core, they place semantics/meaning in the foreground. We use language to communicate meaning, and so meaning/semantics must be the core tool of analysis, and structure is "subservient" to this (Halliday or someone like that said this).

Therefore, to understand the why of the verb-ing construction and the to+infintive construction, what they mean must be understood, not what structures they enter into. The structures they enter into are analystical keys to the understanding of the meaning.

Rod's summary centered on "meaning",is really what I meant. Thanks.
Ferd RoseboomRod Mitchell and 1 other like this

Though Elisabeth said it in a much more interesting way.

And an even better translation - by Elisabeth:

1) I like to drink French wine
J'aime/Je préfère/ PRENDRE/CHOISIR/ du vin français

I like drinking French wine
2) J'aime BOIRE du vin français - BOIRE du vin français me plaît

In the first case - you don't even have to translate "drink" literally into French.

There's a great exercise in The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course that explains which verbs can take an infinitive only, a gerund only, or both with or without a change in meaning. Highly recommend.

<"time", "life", feelings">

I'll go along with . . . 'time'. The other two seem a little mushy, but my sensibilities this early in the morning may not be in full swing, especially as I'm not a caffeine drinker. (NO apologies will be offered)

'Mushy' is the spice of life (or at least mushy peas with a meat pie, anyway).

<The structures they enter into>

If meanings are infinite, then the structuralists are in trouble, though they claim to have infinite forms. However, form does serve to limit the number of possible meanings (emotional included . .), a plus for the listener.
Rod Mitchell likes this

Meanings are not infinite - this is another "structuralist" myth. Neither are forms/structures infinite ("potentially infinite" is not the same as "really infinite"). Language would be impossible to learn, otherwise.

Both meaning and form/strucutre are very finite - and for each individual meaning or form - very restricted. And - last but not least, form/structure itself has meaning.

Of course - understanding/message transfer cannot exist without structure/form to keep it all together.

@Geoffrey Eden: I'm not sure you understand the point of this thread given that you haven't backed up your recommendation.

<The Grammar Book>
Again, before my turn:
pp. 634 ff. Infinitive Complements: 'believe'-type, advise'-type, 'attempt'-type, 'want'-type, and 'let'-type. The attempt-type involves a type of control ... from its subject. ... the class also includes the verbs 'begin', 'continue', ..., 'vow'.
pp. 641 ff. Gerund Complements: ... some of the earmarks of other clauses ... -- specifically ... like those that follow the verb 'attempt'. ... these gerund clauses are NP objects which happen also to have the status of a clausal (S).
That is about it. Not very conclusive, and again an enumeration of verbs.
Sorry, Ferd.
Rod Mitchell likes this

<Not very conclusive> --Will

Rod was right. It's no wonder that one of the most persistent mistakes made (by at least Asians) is the incorrect use of the infinitive in utterance which require the -ing form:
<<He suggested to go on holiday.>>
<<He considered to call on you.>>
<<She delayed to buy a new dress.>>

Even some Asians who've spoken English fluently for years continue to be puzzled by this use of the gerund and persist in using the infinitive. And all along I thought it was just their interlanguage that caused this.

Here are a few more thoughts:

'I'm looking for insights into why words fall into one category or another.'
'But the rule fails to explain why'--Ferd

This is how I look at how language works: love and language know no logic.
To my mind, grammar when prescriptive said this is right this is wrong, grammar when descriptive says this is how lexis and syntax work in day-to-day use.

'Are you suggesting that grammaticians see no difference between the use of <I like swimming.> and <I like to swim.>, or why <I'd like swimming.> is incorrect.'--Ferd

Again, in my opinion, grammarians should put in print only what meanings users of a language derive from its lexis and syntax.

There is already a frozen list of irregular verbs (200 and odd). Ferd, since you’ve already done some work, would it be too much to ask you to prepare two frozen lists of verbs with the to-infinitive and with the present participle?

<<After try we use an infinitive to suggest some kind of effort or difficulty involved in an
"They tried to persuade their daughter not to smoke.">>
What's wrong with the arguably more common: <They tried persuading...>?--Ferd

Here is an excerpt:
‘In the case of ‘try’, the double meaning is particularly clear:
Sheila tried {to bribe the jailor. [1]
                   {bribing the jailor. [2]
[1] implies that Sheila attempted an act of bribery, but did not manage it;
[2] implies that she actually did bribe the jailor, but without (necessarily)
                           achieving what she wanted.’
Page 1191 (16.40) of A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language
by Quirk et al.

Now, the meaning difference has come from how English has been used by its speakers, so the explanation to whoever who may raise the this is how native speakers use English.

Having said this, Quirk et al [ibid] say this:
‘As a rule, the infinitive gives a sense of mere ‘potentiality’ for action, as in
She hoped to learn French, while the participle gives a sense of the actual
‘performance’ of action itself, as in She enjoyed learning French.
They then go on and mention three classes: emotive verbs, aspectual verbs and retrospective verbs.

I reiterate this: language is learnt/ captured/ gathered more outside the classroom than inside--read, read, listen, listen. When in doubt, go to a dictionary. Period.
Ferd Roseboom likes this

<Performance of action> for -ing form and <Potential for action> for infinitive --Kolipaka

Thanks for sharing that! It's simple and with both words starting with a 'p', easy to remember. One problem I have with it is the verbs of Perception I listed don't seem to be about potential for action---they're immediate: <It seems to be raining.> And what about 'claim' as in <She claims to have met me before.>

And wouldn't you agree that verbs of Advice, if anything are Potential related, not about performance? suggest, advise, propose, recommend, insist

But you are right, Kolipaka. I need to set a 'frozen list'.

Thanks Ferd. I was only giving you a source which seems to do some explaining about what certain verbs taking -ings and certain others, to-infinitives seem to imply. I need to go through your lists thoroughly and the lists provided by Quirk to be able to say anything in the matter. Ultimately, it's a question of under what caption we group verbs that provide us a clue about the sense they carry under that caption--different people may group a set of verbs under different groups.

Thanks for thinking of the frozen lists. Every language teacher should ideally think along those lines you and others in this discussion have.
Ferd Roseboom likes this

<Even some Asians who've spoken English fluently for years continue to be puzzled by this use of the gerund and persist in using the infinitive. And all along I thought it was just their interlanguage that caused this.>

Another example of a common psychological problem faced by the teacher (and society more at large) – to place the “fault” on the learner (the underdog) rather than looking also at how we the practitioners/society approach the process – the mistakes we make [I don’t really want to say “fault” – but it seemed the best word at the moment].. Of course, “interlanguage” is real and important – however, it is only part of learner errors (1st language influence, other language influence are two others).

<This is how I look at how language works: love and language know no logic.>

The mistake we as teachers/grammarians/etc. make is to assume that all logic equals mathematical logic. Love and language both know logic – but it is their own logic. Our job as teachers/grammarians (etc.) is understand language logic (and if were psychologists - or people in love - to understand the logic of love).

Prescriptive grammar is not based on language logic (and only a little on mathematical logic – the rule against “double negatives” comes from mathematical logic). It is a set of rules of how to use English in an elegant manner, and as such is not a description of how English works, but a description of how we should use English in formal contexts.

The description of a language is showing how the language works – and what its internal logic is – based on the logic of lingusitic structure and human communication.

'Are you suggesting that grammaticians see no difference between the use of <I like swimming.> and <I like to swim.>, or why <I'd like swimming.> is incorrect.'--Ferd

<Again, in my opinion, grammarians should put in print only what meanings users of a language derive from its lexis and syntax.>

True, Lakshminarayanan, that is what grammarians should only put in print – but not only grammarians, language teachers as well.

What grammarians put in print depends on their theoretical backgrounding. Those that see only “structures” as being important find it difficult to see the full picture of the differences between the uses of verb-ing, to+verb, etc. They see various differences, but find it difficult to put the whole together.

Why? Because they attempt to give us “frozen lists”. We must be very careful with “frozen lists” and what we base the lists on – and how we present the lists.

It comes back again to avoiding a focus on the words that would go in the lists – the focus must always be on the contexts verb-ing and to-verb appear in.

Grammarians from a functional/cognitive background present lists – but use the lists to show what verb-ing and to-verb mean. They also realize that (in this specific case), it is impossible to give “frozen lists”, because the majority of main verbs can be in both lists (the verb-ing and the to+verb lists).

Those main verbs that are limited to one or the other are limited because the meaning of the main verb can only focus on one or the other – and therefore the functional/cognitive grammarian’s approach is to use those verbs also as teaching tools so as to understand the contrast between verb-ing and to+verb.

"They tried to persuade their daughter not to smoke."
“They tried persuading their daughter not to smoke."

The difference between these comes back to the way verb-ing or to+verb show the point-of-view of the speaker of the sentence. In the first case, the speaker has in his/her mind the goal (purpose/desire/potentiality/etc.) of the parents. Their goal is for her not to smoke.

In the second case, the speaker of the sentence is focusing on the activity the parents were doing (persuading) – the goal of the parents is not an overt part of the sentence, simply part of the background to the sentence.

This is the general use of to+verb vs verb-ing – goal-focus or activity focus.

Quirk et al.’s explanation is faulty – or, rather, we have to be careful with the concept of “implication” (in other words, Quirk et al made a mistake).

Sheila tried {to bribe the jailor}.
Sheila tried {bribing the jailor}.

In the first case, it is merely implication (implicature) that she didn’t manage to bribe the jailor.

Sheila tried to bribe the jailor – and to her vast relief he accepted it.

In the second case, it is also simply “implication” (implicature) that the jailer actually accepted the bribe:

Sheila tried bribing the jailor – and to her disappointment he refused it – though she was relieved that he didn’t report her.

In other words, what Quirk was hoping to prove by using these examples falls a little flat – because the examples themselves are confusing, and can be read the OPPOSITE way in different contexts.

A rule based on misused/misunderstood (or whatever) input is “potentially useless” – particularly for students who come across counter examples in real-life English.

“As a rule, the infinitive gives a sense of mere ‘potentiality’ for action, as in She hoped to learn French, while the participle gives a sense of the actual ‘performance’ of action itself, as in She enjoyed learning French.”

Here Quirk et al give the real reading of the use of verb-ing (and not only as a present participle) – a sense of the actual performance of action itself, that is to say “activity”. However, what they say about the infinitive is only half-way (if that much) there, because examples can be given where the sense is more than just “mere”:

“He wants to drink that beer there.”

Quirk et al’s emotive verbs, aspectual verbs and retrospective verbs.

This type of list just goes back to the creation of lists merely to reflect a structure rather than semantics. All three types include contexts where both verb-ing and to-verb can appear:

I hate swimming.
I hate to swim.

He began working.
He began to work.
He stopped working.
He stopped to work.

I remembered to open the door.
I remembered opening the door.
I regret telling you what happened.
I regret to tell you what happened.

Therefore for students (and teachers) just come back to the “confusion” state – if they are not used as teaching tools.

<Performance of action> for -ing form and <Potential for action> for infinitive
<Thanks for sharing that! It's simple and with both words starting with a 'p', easy to remember.>

The most important tool for teachers and students – something easy to remember. A one-word (or phrase) aid to learning.

Ferd has given two examples that show that Quirk et al didn’t go all the way; they stopped halfway – they didn’t go into more depth of what “potential” actually means. Using the verb “hope” can always create this confusion – “I hope to get a good job” in its typical context is something vaguish (potential) in the future.

Note that “hope” can also be followed by verb-ing : I hope taking this medicine will help, where the activity ("performance") of taking medicine is the focus.

It seems to be raining.
She claims to have met me before.

Even if these are “immediate”, there is a type of potentiality involved. In the first case, the evidence is pushing me to believe that it is raining, however this is at the moment of speaking a potential belief (certainty) – not yet actual. I am waiting on more definite proof that it is raining (or maybe even not raining).

The second takes this “potential belief/certainty” even further. She has made this claim, but I doubt that she has actually met me (or at least am uncertain about it) – or I know that she definitely never ever has met me. In other words, the truth of her claim is what is “potential”; at the moment of speaking it is waiting on further proof either way.

Where “performance” is concerned – Quirk et al did make a somewhat confusing terminology choice (potential / performance rather than something less ambiguous). Change “potential” for “goal” and “performance” for “activity/state”, then things are potentially easier to understand.

I suggest working harder : I suggest an activity (= both “performance” and “potential” - because the "performance" of harder work is only "potential")

I suggest he work harder : I suggest an action (= both “potential” and “performance”, become there is a potentiality about him actually being willing to "perform" so; here “work” is the present subjunctive, not the infinitive; the subjunctive like the infinitive has a “potentiality” [to use Quirk et al’s term]

<Ultimately, it's a question of under what caption we group verbs that provide us a clue about the sense they carry under that caption--different people may group a set of verbs under different groups.>

And this is the danger - different people basing their lists NOT on how English really works, but on something that works for them at that moment based on the analysis they did at that moment.

Any such lists must be left aside until complete research has been done.

Hi Rod
Thanks a lot for the comments, some I understand, some I don't, to be honest. If you learnt Thamizh and taught it, you'd be equally puzzled by how verbs behave in it or sentence structures for that matter. But for us it's a matter of course, like English is for you. But even with my language I haven't analysed it the way English has been here. I must confess I'm not intelligent enough to perceive the different interpretations being presented, i'ts mind-boggling. I'll however mull over the observations, I'll come back to you and Ferd if I can.

I learnt one thing though. How differently teachers look at knowing / teaching certain aspects of language use, and how deep and wide they can go--a real mental gymnastics, I feel.

I guess I'm done!
Rod MitchellKM Abdul Mumin and 1 other like this

Hi back

I have been analyzing English for teaching/learning purposes for over 20 years; and fluently speak languages as different from each other as Thamizh (Tamil) is from English, and have analyzed them in the same way. There are also over 5000 languages in the world, and so potentially over 5000 ways of dividing up grammar, vocabulary, and so on.

One of the most interesting ways of seeing how people work is seeing how their languages work.
The important things in analysing your own language are (1) to step back from it and put yourself in the shoes of learners of the language - and where possible to ignore what the grammars say, (2) to ignore the grammars of other languages, (3) to trust your instinct - which means putting yourself in the shoes of a native speaker of your language. THen, after having analysed - then look at the grammars, how other languages work, etc. - and then refine your analysis - and - most important - never ever think that you have finished analysing.

Of course, looking at what other people have already done is very usefuland important, but we must ALWAYS read everything critically. Quirk et al made the mistake of using "potential" and "performance" in their description, because they forgot that in "real-life" English, "potential" and "performance" have ranges of meaning which mean that they are ambiguous terms, and can also be used together (that is to say, "potential" and "performance" can appear in the same sentence - as in "I suggest working harder").

All native speakers know how the language is used "instinctively" - and native speakers rarely make mistakes. This is becauswe the rules themselves are actually simple (and the majority we have learnt by the time we are around 5 years old).

Explaining them however, is difficult, particularly for things like verb-ing (gerund/participle) and to+verb (to+infintive) - because to get "instinctive" knowledge to the level where we become "intellectually" aware of it takes a lot of exploration.

If we take the wrong path (because of theoretical backgrounding, generally), then of course everything goes crazy (kidding).

<But even with my language I haven't analysed it the way English has been here. I must confess I'm not intelligent enough to perceive the different interpretations being presented, i'ts mind-boggling.>

It is not a case of "intelligence", but time - I have been doing this over 20 years, but also was lucky to have good training in analystical linguistics in a variety of different types of languages. One of the most important was a "simple" one semester part of my Masters Qualifying coursework. A sequence of published articles/papers on a grammar point [I forget what the point was] to be examined and critiqued, where each article/paper produced evidence that the previous article/paper had made mistakes in the analysis of the point.

The coursework was designed to show the value of not taking the analyses presented at face value - no matter how loigcal they seem - but to always look for where the aqnalyses could be mistaken. Also, the lecturer (Rodney Huddleston) used one of his own articles/papers as either the first or the second in the series to show that no-one is above making mistakes - that critiquing oneself is as important in analysis as reading/analysing other people's work.

<a real mental gymnastics> - you have hit the nail on the head.

<an enumeration of verbs>

Jiménez Grillo! My poor 6th-graders!
Rod Mitchell likes this

Povrecitos! There are thousands of verbs ...

I really like the 'goal' explanation of verbs in their 'to V' form, and the 'process' of the -ing form.

My stepdaughter in Mexico pronounces the 'v' in an American way - a labiodental. The Mexican 'v' spelling and 'b' spelling are pronounced the same, mostly a bilabial fricative. But! 'pobrecito'.
Rod Mitchell likes this

Pobrecitos - pobrecillos if you prefer ;-)

The problem with giving lists of those verbs that go typically with X or Y construction is that there are potentially thousands of verbs that can go into such lists.

Hi Rod
true there are thousands of verbs that go either way and both ways as well but then an attempt can be made, can't it? Where is the harm? If at all a list is prepared by Ferd for example is incomplete somebody like you can add to it, eh?

An attempt can be made - yes.

Where is the harm? - the whole discussion was started off by Ferd pointing out one "harm" - that lists lead teachers and students to expect memorisation to be a major tool of learning - without actually understanding why the lists are put together ("simply expected to memorize seemingly random* verb lists the way they learn conjugations? Merely by exposure and practice, for example, are they expected to know ..." [etc.]).

In other words, no harm in lists themselves, as long as they are used for real teaching/learning, not just as a cop-out for the teacher or the student to assume that real learning is happening simply because there is a list and "I have memorised the list".

In most cases, this memorisation is impossible; there are just too many items in the list.

Lists are used for a wide range of categories in the teaching and learning of pretty well every language, and have never yet been proved to be effective (or even efficient) in producing real understanding and competency in students of the language. This does not mean that they are not useful (e.g. for reference) or that they can't be good teaching/learning tools - as long as they are really used as tools.

For lists showing how to use the gerund/participle, the infinitive and the to+infinitive (and don't forget there is also to+verb-ing), adjectives also need to be included.

He was happy to meet her.
He was happy seeing her win.

What such lists can also create is a false impression of many rules when there are only three rules (what verb-ing means, what the infinitive means, and what the prepositon "to" means - it is the prepostition "to" that shows the goal semantics, not the infinitive).

So - what would be useful lists in this case?

(a) those verbs/adjectives (and maybe other things) that can only be used with reference to activity (enjoy, avoid, following prepositions, reference to the activity, etc.)

(b) those verbs/adjectives (etc.) that can only be used with action reference (passive make, the modals will/can/may/shall/must, let, etc. - an example of "etc." is "What you should do is open the door" : open is an infinitive)

(c) those verbs/adjectives etc. that can only be used with goal reference, and so must be followed by the preposition "to" (seem, request [as a noun : a request to see someone], eager, etc.)

(note that "appear" is another verb that can be in two camps : he appeared to slide on the ice; he appeared sliding on the ice).

< If at all a list is prepared by Ferd for example is incomplete somebody like you can add to it.>

The only reason for lengthening my list is to test my understanding. Any comprehensive 'frozen' list requiring regular updates isn't going to benefit students and if there are regional differences as grammar book authors and one comment suggest, then doesn't that suggest we should use a guided discovery approach? I'd prefer my students coming up with their own KM Abdul MuminK R Lakshminarayanan and 1 other like this

Hi Rod
I like your interpretation of and play upon 'harm'. Having said that, listing does help in the sense that you don't have to take recourse to a dictionary every time you have a doubt even though there may be variations or 'unruly' usages. That's the charm of language, isn't it?

Again it depends on who you give the explanation to--I don't know if school children would require it, and if it is adolescents who we're teaching need explanation, then 'yes' is my answer, especially to those who are eager to know how language works when we use it to express a thought or as Ferd puts it, let students try to discover, if they have the appetite for it!
Rod MitchellKM Abdul Mumin and 1 other like this

<listing does help>

I like lists. They give me the opportunity to analyze the components and develop hypotheses on my own.
Rod MitchellRichard Tomlin and 1 other like this

<The only reason for lengthening my list is to test my understanding ... then doesn't that suggest we should use a guided discovery approach? I'd prefer my students coming up with their own explanation for the distinction before I share mine.>

Task-based-learning approach, "switched classroom", different ways of focusing on the "guided discovery approach". This is the area where lists really come into their own - the teacher has created a list for the students to analyse.

Though, the items don't necessarily need to be in a list; they can be in newspaper articles or other "in-context" material. I have generally found that starting off with in-context material (articles and so on) and THEN moving on to lists is effective, because then the students have developed an understanding of the meaning/function of the items in discussion, and, as Ferd says, we/the students can then refine/confirm/expand on the initial discovery. It works with all ages, levels, backgrounds, and so on.

<... listing does help in the sense that you don't have to take recourse to a dictionary every time you have a doubt even though there may be variations or 'unruly' usages. That's the charm of language, isn't it?>

True - also many dictionaries are not that great at giving the answer the student is looking for. Dictionaries can be among the worst resources for language use once you get out of the word-meaning area, can be confusing, give confusing answers, and also can be based on misanalysis. A dictionary is a "word-book", not a "grammar book", and an expert in words is not necessarily an expert on language beyond words.

The concept of "unruly" uses is interesting - an unruly use is in general one where the teacher/textbook/grammarian has misstated a rule.

<I like lists. They give me the opportunity to analyze the components and develop hypotheses on my own. >

Of course, here we have to keep a clear distinction between those lists that we as native speakers of the language can use for analysing our own language - in our heads we potentially have all the necessary material for contextualisation. Using lists with learners is a different story, we the teacher (or whoever) have to supply the contextualisation, either directly or indirectly.

Hi Rod
You possess and use an extraordinary insight into and perception of how a language is being put to use.

I'm inclined to agree with you about dictionary not being very helpful; this was my experience when I looked for distinctive differences among 'disregarded', 'ignored', 'neglected' and 'rejected' and the Advanced Learner's Dictionary only confused me (and hence I put up this as topic for discussion a few weeks ago).

Thanks once again.
Ferd RoseboomRod Mitchell and 1 other like this

The Advanced Learner's Dictionary is an interesting work - and in a way seems to represent more the authors' assumptions of what advanced students will not be able to handle yet (so don't put "difficult stuff" in, like the subtle and not-so subtle differences between 'disregarded', 'ignored', 'neglected' and 'rejected'), as weel as being based on what the average advanced student will have learnt thorugh the textbooks, rather than making sure that it is a truly universal useful tool for advanced students - who are students who are sticing to go beyond advanced.

This is not to run the dictionary down at all - it is a great work in general.

PS - thanks for the praise.

Thanks to Rod, K R, Nelson and everyone else, for your insights on this thread. I've been tempted to copy the entire thread, should I need it for later Teaching Practice lessons in my CELTA course here in Vietnam.
KM Abdul MuminRod Mitchell and 1 other like this

Thank you, Ferd, for an interesting topic, specifically with a view of its applicabilty in the field.
As to your upcoming (?) course, happy teaching!

I've understood it is a great place to do the CELTA. Have fun!
KM Abdul Mumin likes this

<dictionary not being very helpful>

The dictionary is an indispensable tool in some methodologies.

It is indeed - and is also a great source of class-room activities that help in vocabulary learning and so on.

Ferd, you're only tempted but I've been doing this for every discussion in ELT Prof., ELT Resources and Professionals. I'd like to put together thoughts of everyone on discussions that have attracted huge number of responses/comments but I'm so busy with these 'discussions' and other activities in other spheres that I may not be able to do the compilation any time too soon. But I've promised to myself I'd do this sooner or later, at least one or two of them.

That would be two full-time jobs and a half.

K R: I believe David archives discussions so there may be years' worth of discussions that might relate to your interests. Before I discovered LinkedIn groups, I was using but felt the depth of interest in discussing or facilitating ELT related discussions just wasn't there.

Daves ESL Cafe does not have either the depth of interest for facilitating, no.
KM Abdul Mumin likes this