21

One can say: He likes swimming or He likes to swim. What is the exact meaning of each of these? What is the difference?

31

The two are often interchangeable but not always. While he likes to swim always means that he enjoys propelling himself through the water using his own body power, he likes swimming could also be used if he enjoys watching it as a spectator:

"The Olympics are on- we could watch swimming or running. Isn't Bill coming over? He likes swimming, so we should watch that."

  • 3
    Smart distinction. I hadn't thought of that. – temporary_user_name Feb 5 '13 at 2:46
  • That sentence isn't ambiguous, though. Rather, there are two sentences and they have distinct structures. In one sentence swimming is the verb of an object gerund clause with he understood as its subject, and in the other it's a noun like golf or football. Naturally, the two sentences don't mean the same thing. – John Lawler Jul 30 '16 at 16:58
6

The two are interchangeable. "He likes swimming" means "He likes the act of going to swim." They mean the same thing and you can say either.

2

There is an interesting commentary on the similarities and differences between like + gerund and like + infinitive here. I have not yet finished digesting it but there is definitely some food for thought there, for both EFL teachers and students on this issue.

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