I don't know which page in the book "Practical English Usage" I can learn about the usage of "have problems V-ing".

I try to look this usage up in "Practical English Usage" (Michael Swan).

Because I do not understand a sentence like the following one.

"Students find it so easy to blame others or complain about their difficult situation when they have problems preparing for the IELTS test."

The structure of the form "have problems V-ing" is not clear to me.

I hope somebody bring answers to these questions.

Is it correct to say

"...have problems of preparing for the IELTS test."


"...have problems to prepare for the IELTS test."?


"...have problems to preparing for the IELTS test."?

What is the difference between those three sentences in meaning?

How do I look this usage up in "Practical English Usage" (Michael Swan)?

  • 1
    Ah! So your question is: where in my book can I learn about this usage? Sep 12, 2016 at 17:51
  • @P.E.Dant Yes. You are right. I don't know which page in my book "Practical English Usage" I can learn about this usage. This book is like a dictionary. So I "look up" it. Am I wrong with the usage of "look up"? Sep 12, 2016 at 17:56
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    No, you are not wrong. Look under gerund or gerund phrase. (We would say "How do I look up something in the book.") Sep 12, 2016 at 17:59
  • Did you find the references to gerund or gerund phrase in your book? Sep 12, 2016 at 19:28
  • @P. E. Dant I have been reading entries on gerunds, ing and participles. So far, examples in this book I read are quite different from the form of "...have problems preparing for...". But I do not give up. I will let you know once I find the exact entry which explains well. Sep 12, 2016 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


Linguists would say that "The noun problems may take a subjectless gerund-participle clause" as a complement; but that's not a Why, it's just a name for the fact that that is how we say it.

To say that Students have problems preparing ... means that students find some aspect of preparing difficult.

You may also speak of problems with preparing, but that usually means having some (unspecified) objection to preparing itself. And you may speak of problems in preparing, but that usually means problems of some (unspecified) sort encountered while you are preparing.

You may encounter problems of preparing, but the preposition of introduces a specification of the problems, such as "the two problems of finding the error and repairing it".

Neither of your suggested alternatives with to is idiomatic.

  • I think of an example with "to" which is "...have approaches to gathering information". So when it come to the word "problem(s)", the form "have problem(s) V-ing" is appropriate. Sep 12, 2016 at 19:01
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    @user9418 Yes: approach takes different sorts of complements than problem ... this is true of all words: there's no reliable formula, you just have to learn them word-by-word. Sep 12, 2016 at 19:19
  • Before learning most of them word-by-word, I need to read them and identify them. Asking questions here help me start learning them in groups. Sep 12, 2016 at 19:41

And we can substitute a number of analogues for problems:

Do you have difficulty walking?

Do you have pain standing up?

Do you have trouble sleeping?

Do you have shortness-of-breath climbing stairs?

Do you have qualms doing that?

P.S. And they don't have to be problems:

Did you have a good time visiting them?

Do you like eating there?

Do you miss going there?

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