The form of the infinitive is to + verb, while that of the gerund is verb + -ing. Both infinitives and gerunds can function as nouns. Here are the main differences between how they are used:
1. The infinitive can sound more formal than a gerund as the subject of a sentence.
- Infinitive as subject: To complain would be silly.
Gerund as subject: Complaining would be silly.
2. Infinitives and gerunds can also act as objects of verbs. Some verbs take gerunds and infinitives interchangeably. Others can take only infinitives, while still others can take only gerunds.
- Infinitive or gerund, either: She likes to run / running .
- Infinitive only: He wants
to leave /
- Gerund only: Have they finished
to eat/ eating ?
3. The gerund is generally used as the object of a preposition, except with the prepositions except and but, which always take the infinitive.
- Gerund only: Thanks for believing in me.
- Infinitive only: I had no choice but to accept his offer.
4. The infinitive, not the gerund, is used as a direct object after an indirect object.
- Life teaches you to accept others as they are.
Infinitives and gerunds
Like a noun, an infinitive, which is the basic form of a verb (e.g., to dance, to read), can function as the subject or the object in a sentence. So can a gerund, which is a verb form ending in -ing (dancing, reading).
- Infinitive as subject: To dance is all he wants.
- Infinitive as object: She likes to read.
- Gerund as subject: Dancing is his passion.
- Gerund as object: She likes reading science fiction.
Since both infinitives and gerunds can replace nouns in, they are sometimes interchangeable, but not always. In this article, we discuss whether to use an infinitive or a gerund in a sentence.
Slight difference in tone
As the subject of a sentence, an infinitive sounds moreand literary than a gerund.
- Infinitive: To be born is both a blessing and a curse.
versusGerund: Being born is both a blessing and a curse.
Here are some more examples from literature. Note the slightly solemn tone that the infinitive as subject lends to the sentence.
- “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.”
— Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847
- “To touch her face was that always new experience of opening your window one December morning . . .”
— Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, 1957
- “To want is to have a weakness.”
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985
No difference in meaning or tone
Infinitives and gerunds can be used interchangeably as theof some verbs, such as start, begin, continue, love, like, prefer, hate.
- Infinitive: Lulu started
Gerund: Lulu started singing .
to sing .
- Infinitive: Tumkin began
Gerund: Tumkin began dancing .
to dance .
- Infinitive: Anita continued
Gerund: Anita continued reading .
to read .
- Infinitive: Nesbit loves
Gerund: Nesbit loves tinkering with technology.
to tinker with technology.
- Infinitive: Maya likes
Gerund: Maya likes drinking tea.
to drink tea.
- Infinitive: Rita prefers
Gerund: Rita prefers drinking beer to sipping on tea.
to drink beer than to sip on tea.
Change in meaning
Some verbs can mean different things when used with infinitives and with gerunds.
When try is used with an infinitive, it means “to attempt to do something difficult.” But when try is used with a gerund, it conveys the meaning of “experimenting with something new.”
- With infinitive: I’ll try
With gerund: Have you ever tried drinking tea instead of coffee?
to complete the report by tomorrow, but I can’t promise you anything.
Stop is another such verb. With an infinitive, it implies a cessation of movement. With a gerund, stop is used to talk about ceasing to do something. It can also mean that a habit has been abandoned.
- With infinitive: On the way up the mountain, we stopped
With gerund: Stop talking !
With gerund: finally stopped worrying about the future.
to admire the view.
Verbs that take only infinitives
With some verbs, an infinitive can act as an object, but a gerund cannot.
- Farley wants
finding/ to find gold in the mountains.
- Poco intends
firing/ to fire all his employees today.
- Nesbit plans
buying/ to buy a new laptop next month.
- Tumkin hopes
traveling/ to travel to Fiji someday.
- Lulu agreed
meeting/ to meet me at the party.
- Anita needs
adopting/ to adopt another cat.
- Maya promised
buying/ to buy me an island for my birthday.
Other such verbs include claim, hesitate, learn, wish, neglect, expect, and prepare.
Verbs that take only gerunds
Gerunds, but not infinitives, can act as the object of certain verbs.
- Nesbit mentioned
to seestrange lights in the sky.
- Anita and I discussed reorganizing /
to reorganizethe staff allocation.
- Lulu has finished
to eatall the candy.
- Poco recommends
to buya new house in another city.
- Maya risks
to loseher reputation if she publishes this story.
- Would you consider
to hireRita for the job?
- Farley narrowly avoided
to crashhis car into the wall.
- Tumkin suggests
to punishanyone who burns a book.
- Poco keeps
to callme all day long.
Other verbs that take gerunds as objects include delay, deny, recall, and resist.
While gerunds can act as the object of a preposition (in, on, of, from, for, into), infinitives usually cannot.
- Can someone stop Farley from
to actthe fool?
- Poco is thinking of
to buya new car.
- Thanks for
to inviteme to your party.
The exceptions are except and but, which take an infinitive instead of a gerund as object.
- Poco would not stop yelling except
catching/ to catch his breath.
- Farley had no choice but
eating/ to eat the deadly berries.
After indirect objects
Infinitives (or infinitive phrases) can bethat follow of verbs.
- My mother taught me to read .
- My mother
- Indirect object (who was affected?)
- Direct object (what was taught?)
- to read (an infinitive)
Here are some more examples.
- Lulu asked me to sing a song.
- Poco told Farley to submit the report immediately.
- Nesbit warned me to wear a sweater in Iceland.
- The police have ordered the protestors to disperse .
Whether an infinitive or a gerund should be used as the object differs from one verb to another. Familiarity with the language helps, which is why native speakers reflexively choose the right option. When in doubt, refer to a learner’s dictionary (like Oxford or Merriam Webster) that contains examples indicating whether to use the infinitive or the gerund with a verb.