After certain verbs, it is important to use the -ing form, and after some other verbs, the infinitive is needed. Sometimes it is possible to use either form and there is no change in meaning. in some other cases, we can apply either form and there is a change in meaning.
Verbs followed by a to-infinitive
Some verbs can be followed immediately by a to-infinitive:
mean (= intend)
- I can’t afford to go on holiday.
- It began to rain.
- She hopes to go to university next year.
- My mother never learnt to swim.
- Did you remember to ring Nigel?
Verbs followed by -ing
-ing but NOT to-infinitive
Some verbs are normally followed by the -ing form, not the to-infinitive:
- always enjoy cooking. Not: I always enjoy to cook.
- We haven’t finished eating yet. Not: We haven’t finished to eat.
- She keeps changing her mind about the wedding.
New subject before -ing
Some of these verbs (e.g. can’t stand, dislike, imagine, involve, mind, miss, put off and risk) can be used with a new subject before the -ing form (underlined in the examples below). If the new subject is a pronoun, it is in the object form (me, him, her, us, them):
- We just couldn’t imagine Gerry singing in public.
- Do you mind me being here while you’re working?
- I don’t want to risk him losing his job.
Verbs followed by a to-infinitive or -ing
Hate, like, love, prefer
Hate, like, love and prefer can be followed either by -ing or a to-infinitive. The difference in meaning is often small. The -ing form emphasises the verb itself. The to-infinitive puts the emphasis more on the preference for, or the results of, the action.
I love cooking Indian food. (emphasis on the process itself and enjoyment of it)
I like to drink juice in the morning, and tea at lunchtime. (emphasis more on the preference or habit)
She hates cleaning her room. (emphasis on the process itself and no enjoyment of it)
I hate to be the only person to disagree.(emphasis more on the result: I would prefer not to be in that situation.)
Most people prefer watching a film at the cinema rather than on TV. (emphasis on the process itself and enjoyment of it)
We prefer to drive during the day whenever we can. (emphasis more on the result and on the habit or preference. The speaker doesn’t necessarily enjoy the process of driving at any time of day.)
Hate, like, love, prefer with would or should
When hate, like, love and prefer are used with would or should, only the to-infinitive is used, not the -ing form:
- She’d love to get a job nearer home. Not: She’d love getting a job nearer home.
- Would you like to have dinner with us on Friday?
To-infinitive or -ing form with a change in meaning
Some verbs can be followed by a to-infinitive or the -ing form, but with a change in meaning
Working in London means leaving home at 6.30.(Because I work in London, this is the result or consequence.)
I didn’t mean to make you cry. (I didn’t intend to make you cry.)
He went on singing after everyone else had finished.(He continued singing without stopping.)
She recited a poem, then went on tosing a lovely folk song. (She recited the poem first, then she sang the song.)
I tried searching the web and finally found an address for him. (I searched the web to see what information I could find.)
I tried to email Simon but it bounced back. (I tried/attempted to email him but I did not succeed.)
She stopped crying as soon as she saw her mother. (She was crying, and then she didn’t cry anymore.)
We stopped to buy some water at the motorway service area. (We were travelling and we stopped for a short time in order to buy some water.)
Verbs followed by an infinitive without 'to'
Let and make are followed by an infinitive without to in active voice sentences. They always have an object (underlined) before the infinitive:
- Let me show you this DVD I’ve got.
- They made us wait while they checked our documents. Not: They made us to wait…
Help can be followed by an infinitive without to or a to-infinitive:
- She helped me find a direction in life.
- Everyone can help to reduce carbon emissions by using public transport.
Verbs followed by -ing or an infinitive without to
A group of verbs connected with feeling, hearing and seeing can be used with -ing or with an infinitive without to
When they are used with -ing, these verbs emphasise the action or event in progress. When they are used with an infinitive without to, they emphasise the action or event seen as a whole, or as completed.
infinitive without to
She heard people shouting in the street below and looked out of the window. (emphasises that the shouting probably continued or was repeated)
I heard someone shout‘Help!’, so I ran to the river.(emphasises the whole event: the person probably shouted only once)
A police officer saw him runningalong the street. (emphasises the running as it was happening)
Emily saw Philip run out of Sandra’s office. (emphasises the whole event from start to finish)
Verbs followed by a direct object and a to-infinitive
Some verbs are used with a direct object (underlined) followed by a to-infinitive. These verbs include:
- I advised him to get a job as soon as possible.
- Did Martin teach Gary to play squash?
- They want me to go to Germany with them.