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1) They can't afford to go out very often.

2) They can't afford going out very often.

A native speaker has said that the second usage can be heard in a colloquial speech, but it is incorrect. Is it true?

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I don't see anything wrong with it. –  Jim Feb 12 at 4:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I searched The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) for both strings. Here's what I found:

  afford to go        182 results
  afford going        5 results

There's a strong preference for the infinitival complement, so I suggest that you use it in your own writing.

That said, I would accept the other version as grammatical. This is just my personal judgment, but Jim left a comment which agrees, so I'm not the only one. This may be part of a larger trend that some have called the Great Complement Shift, although at the moment the infinitive is still strongly favored; there isn't much evidence in favor of a shift to the gerund for this particular verb yet.

Of the five results in COCA for afford going, four are from the spoken language sub-corpus, and one is from the news sub-corpus. This, along with the relatively small number of results, supports the idea that it might be considered more colloquial.

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grammatically judgments are interesting -- to me "I can't afford going out so often" sounds very strange. –  hunter Feb 12 at 14:25
    
I made an edit to show in the table that natural conversational speech is not represented, to give the reader an intuitive hint that there may be a bias. Of course, snailplane can edit as desired to suit his/her style. –  CoolHandLouis Feb 22 at 23:06
    
Another thought... interpreting the "small number of results" as "meaning something" has a sampling bias. If there were less books and more unscripted speech, you would have different numbers. snailplane touches on this in the analysis of five results for "afford going". –  CoolHandLouis Feb 22 at 23:25
    
@CoolHandLouis Hello! Thank you for the suggested edit, but I would personally prefer that you add this information in the form of comments rather than edits to the answer. By the way, the COCA corpus is 20% unscripted speech, yet the ratio here is about 45:1. If you'd like to do further investigation, you could perhaps start with the Switchboard corpus. –  snailplane Feb 23 at 0:47
    
Ok will do. I don't know "how much" the COCA "unscripted speech" is really "unscripted". I mean, there's multiple dimensions of "scriptedness". First, it's all TV and radio transcripts. Take for example, "interviews". There's certainly some script for the interviewer, and interviewee, especially famous people who give lots of interviews and they have their "polished stories" to tell. Another scriptedness dimension comes from "editing" to cull the best parts of an "unscripted" interview. TV/Radio formality, socio-economic, and educational bias. I'll check out Switchboard, thanks! –  CoolHandLouis Feb 23 at 3:21

Both are okay. Nevertheless, COCAE shows the verb afford + to + infinitive quite common similar to the examples you stated.

I think the verb afford just like love and hate takes both - gerund and infinitive after it.

They cannot afford to go out very often - used more frequently.
They cannot afford going out very often - used less frequently.

This is all about verb pattern.

Further reading here and here addressing similar concern. For particular this topic, see here.

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The Collins dictionary (online) has only to afford to do. Obviously for AmE the problem is a bit different, but I would say the normal verb construction is to afford + to-infinitive. But I'm not astonished that some people in spoken language use the gerund after to afford. Simply because the borderline between to-infinitive and gerund after a verb is overlapping and the borderline that grammars draw is actually a bit arbitrary and mainly due to convention.

But people don't speak English with a grammar in their hand. And so you can hear sometimes a gerund used as object after a verb even when grammars say the normal verb construction is verb + to-infinitive.

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