When do we use to + ing (gerund)? is the following form commonly used?

Later, he confessed to killing Kem over a $3,000 debt. A Cambodian court charged him with premeditated murder. Authorities considered the case cut-and-dried ... Los Angeles Times

Can we use "He confessed he killed Kem ..."? or Is the above form more fluent?


I want to know when we use to + ing (gerund) in general. the "confessed to" is just an example.

  • In regards to this specific example, it's about style. This being a newspaper article, I can see an argument for using "to killing" because it sounds more objective instead of the "he confessed he [had] killed," which sounds more subjective. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 8:50
  • There's no difference in meaning, but the gerund-participial "killing Kem ..." is the most natural. Note that "killing" is verb, not a noun, as evidenced by the fact that it has a direct object "Kem".
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 13:41
  • @BillJ, in this context, killing is a gerund, a verb that functions as a noun in a sentence. A gerund can take a direct object, for example Eating people is wrong..
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 12:46
  • @JavaLatte Nouns never take direct objects, only verbs do. "Killing" is clearly a verb since it can take an adverbial modifier: "He confessed to viciously killing Kem", but nouns cannot (normally) be modified by adverbs. Same with "eating people": "people" is object of "killing" and again an adverb is possible: "Needlessly eating people is wrong". (Note, though, that they can be nouns, as in "He confessed to the killing of Kem" and "The eating of people is wrong".) Complementation is a good indicator.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 13:03
  • @BillJ: (sigh).
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 13:44

3 Answers 3


Short Answer:

It's about style and tone.

Long Answer:

I can tell you that to me, "to killing" sounds more formal than "he [had] killed" and so, in the context of a newspaper article, it makes more sense.

Also, when reporting in a newspaper article about an event such as this one, you usually want to strike a more objective tone as the writer and "distance" yourself from the subject of the article.

Using "to killing" instead of "he confessed he [had] killed" achieves this effect.

Lastly, while some words have forms they always use, e.g., "avoid 'killing,'" versus "avoid 'to kill,'" in this case, it's just a matter of style and tone.


According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is normal to follow confess with either that and a clause or to and a noun... and a gerund is effectively a noun form of a verb.

He confessed that he killed Kem
He confessed to murder
He confessed to killing Kem.

In informal speech it is possible to omit the that, but it would be a bit slack to do so in formal writing.


Confess to is what is variously called a phrasal verb or a preposition verb phrase or a prepositional phrasal verb: a combination VERB + PREPOSITION which acts together as a VERB. It takes a Direct Object, which must be a noun or noun phrase.

Accordingly, if you employ a verbal form as the object, it must be a gerund: a verbal form which acts as a noun:

He confessed to having a secret admiration for his opponent. Why is a gerund used after the verb “confess to”

  • Same applies to a more popular example. I'm lookong forward to hearing from you.
    – iBug
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 11:14

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