Verbs That Change with Gerunds and Infinitives

12 September, 2019

In English, we sometimes follow a verb with another action. When we do this, we must use an infinitive or a gerund.

You may remember that a gerund is the form of a verb that ends with the letters -ing. For example, in the sentence "I love laughing," the word "laughing" is a gerund.

An infinitive is the simplest verb form and often has the word "to" in front of it. In the sentence "I want to go for a walk," the words "to go" are an infinitive.

English learners often have trouble knowing when to use a gerund or an infinitive. There is a good reason for this: There are a handful of rules. For example, some verbs can only be followed by infinitives. Others can only be followed by gerunds.

There are other rules, but we won't talk about them today.

Instead, we will explore a small group of verbs that can be followed by a gerund or an infinitive. But their meaning changes depending on which form is used.

There are seven verbs in this group. Today we will explore four of them: try, forget, stop and regret.

Let's start with the verb "try" and use it with an infinitive.

Try + infinitive

When you try to do something, it means you make an effort to do it. But it may be difficult or impossible, and you may not succeed, as in this example:

I tried to lift that box but it was too heavy. Can you help me?

Lifting a heavy object is often difficult.

When you try to lift a heavy box, you may or may not be able to do it.
When you try to lift a heavy box, you may or may not be able to do it.

Try + gerund

But when you try doing something, it means you are experimenting with an action to find out if it works, as in this:

My back hurts. I tried taking pain medicine but it's not helping.

The action itself isn't difficult but may or may not have the desired result.

The change in meaning between the infinitive and gerund with "try" is smaller than the change in meaning for other verbs we will look at today.

Forget + infinitive

Next up is the verb "forget."

When you forget to do something, it means you wanted to do it but you did not remember. So, you did not do it.

Say, for example, you wanted to set your alarm clock last night. But you didn't do it because you forgot. You might say:

I forgot to set my alarm clock last night.

Oh, no! I hope you won't be late for work, school or an important meeting.

Forget + gerund

Yet when you forget doing something, the meaning changes. It means you did do it. But you fail to remember the act of doing it. In other words, you forgot a memory.

Listen to this speaker use a gerund with "forget."

Ben forgot meeting Savana's aunt at the last family gathering.

The speaker is saying that Ben did meet Savana's aunt. But he doesn't remember the act of meeting her.

However, the structure forget + gerund is more commonly used when someone declares they will not forget a treasured memory, as in this sentence:

I will never forget seeing my child walk for the first time. I was so happy!

Stop + infinitive

Let's now move to the verb "stop."

When someone stops to do something, it means they suspend one action for the purpose of doing something else. Take this example:

We've been cleaning all morning. Let's stop to get something to eat.

The speaker is suggesting they stop cleaning because she is getting hungry.

Stop + gerund

But when a person stops doing something, it means they have quit an action. Listen to this person asking someone to stop an action:

Can you stop looking at social media? We have a big test tomorrow.

Putting a gerund after the verb "stop" is also common when talking about bad or unwelcome habits, as in this example:

I stopped smoking cigarettes.

The difference in meaning here can be tricky for some English learners. So let's compare the infinitive and gerund more closely. Have a listen:

I stopped to smoke a cigarette.
I stopped smoking cigarettes.

"I stopped to smoke a cigarette" means the speaker stopped doing something else because she wanted to have a cigarette. "I stopped smoking cigarettes" means the speaker no longer uses cigarettes. The person has ended this habit.

Saying that someone
Saying that someone "stopped smoking" cigarettes and "stopped to smoke" a cigarette have different meanings.

Regret + infinitive

And finally, we have the verb "regret."

When you regret to do something, you are sorry to give someone bad news. This is a formal expression and almost always goes with the verb "inform" "say" or "tell." Have a listen:

We regret to inform you that your flight has been cancelled.

Regret + gerund

But when you regret doing something, you feel badly about something you did in the past. You are not happy about it, as in this example:

She regrets choosing that university. It wasn't a good fit for her.

The person does not like her choice of school. She wishes she had not chosen it.

What you can do?

Here are two suggestions for using the information that you learned today.

The first is to listen and look for the four verbs we talked about wherever English is being used. If a second verb follows, try taking note of whether it's a gerund or an infinitive.

The second is to try using these verbs in your speaking and writing. And don't worry about making mistakes with the forms. Even with mistakes, in many cases, other English speakers will still understand your meaning.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

handfuln. a small amount or number

alarm / alarm clockn. a device that makes a loud sound at any desired time

auntn. the sister of your father or mother or the wife of your uncle

quitv. to stop doing an action or activity

habitn. something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way

formaladj. suitable for serious or official speech and writing

fitn. suitable or appropriate for someone or something