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I am confused about the correct usage of verbs in ~ing or to + infinite forms and how differently they mean. For example,

The picture shows the researcher conducting the test.

versus

The picture shows the researcher to conduct the test.

To my best guess, the researcher in the former sentence is conducting the test (in the picture) while the one in the latter is about to conduct the test(The researcher is doing something else in the picture). Also, the latter seems rarely used, I guess.

Could anyone clarify the difference and correct me?

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You're very nearly correct.

The picture shows the researcher conducting the test.

does not necessarily mean that in the picture, we see the researcher in the process of conducting the test. It simply means that the test has begun, and the picture shows the researcher who is conducting it. The sentence imposes no requirement that she be actively depicted in the act of so doing.

On the other hand,

The picture shows the researcher to conduct the test.

means that the test has not yet begun. Again, it doesn't mean that in the picture, the researcher must be shown as she is just about to begin the test. It simply means that when the test is begun (in the future), she will be the one conducting it.

The meanings become a little clearer by a small insertion:

The picture shows the researcher [who is] conducting/to conduct the test.

And you are correct, the to conduct formulation is a bit stilted and not very commonly used.

  • Superb! This answer is way better and clearer than what I expected. Thanks. – JohnJHPark Feb 22 '17 at 3:32
  • Glad to help. You can show it was helpful by accepting the answer; that is preferable to leaving a positive comment, because as that link says, "Thank you!" comments are discouraged on this site. Also, I'd suggest waiting for a bit instead of accepting right away, as a better answer might come along. – verbose Feb 22 '17 at 3:40
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    @JohnJHPark - "The picture shows the researcher conducting the test" means exactly what you thought. The picture shows the researcher to conduct the test" doesn't work. "The picture shows the researcher about to conduct the test" does. – aparente001 Feb 22 '17 at 5:58

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