I'm puzzled, really.

In the following example, how come the word ending in the -ing form is a verb.

-- I don't like dancing.

I know that 'like' here is a linking verb and can't be let alone without the thing being not liked. But, I can still say sth like, 'I don't like you...cheese...computers.' And clearly, the objects are rather nouny more than verb-like, right?

I can understand the sentence when having been reformulated as 'I don't like to dance'. Here it is crystal clear that to dance is an infinitive form of a verb, and as such being a verb.


  • Dancing" is strictly speaking ambiguous, but verb preferred (cf. "I don't like to dance"). Noun interpretation can be forced by adjectival premodification, as in "occasional dancing", in which case "occasional dancing" is object of "like". "Like" is not a linking verb; here it's a catenative verb with the non-finite clause "dancing" as catenative complement.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 18:33

2 Answers 2


Dancing in your example may be interpreted as either a participle or a gerund (or nouny, which I find very pleasing!), but it is most likely to be seen as a verb form because to like here is a catenative verb: it is followed directly by another verb.

As BillJ says, if dancing were premodified (as in occasional dancing), that would force dancing to be seen as a noun form; but without that, dancing by itself, because it directly follows like, is seen as a clause that serves as the complement to like.

While to like can take either the infinitive or the gerund-participle, some other common catenative verbs can take only the marked infinitive, such as:

  • hope
  • appear
  • seem
  • come
  • get
  • fail

Others can take only the -ing form:

  • go on
  • keep
  • keep on

In this instance, the writer may have chosen the gerund-participle "dancing" in preference to the infinitive "to dance" because there is a slight difference in meaning between the two statements:

I don't like dancing.

This could mean that the speaker dislikes all dancing. Ballet, the waltz, popping and locking, you name it: he doesn't like it.

I don't like to dance.

This means only that the speaker himself dislikes partaking in the activity.

  • +1, but I don't really like the first part. It should only be regarded as a gerund (or gerund-participle) since it realizes the object function. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 22:51
  • @user178049 My explanation may need some work, then: a catenative verb "prefers" a "verby" complement. "Dancing" isn't an object here, it's a non-finite, one-word clause that serves as the complement to "like". (The term "gerund-participle" is what modern grammars use when referring to the ~ing form of a verb.) Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 22:58
  • Actually, I'm surprised by the fact that a catenative complement is not regarded as an object here since it clearly answers the question 'What I don't like'. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 23:07
  • @user178049 Linking verbs take subject complements, but catenative verbs are followed directly by another verb. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 23:16

A gerund is used when the verb is treated like a noun:

His running was the fastest I've seen.

I'm not a fan of her cooking.

Present progressive tense is used when the action (as a verb) is being done continuously:

I am currently running.

He doesn't like to be bothered when he's cooking.

Sometimes, (and English is notorious for this), the gerund/progressive form is used in many instances where the infinitive for of the verb would be more appropriate, so

I don't like dancing.

Should be:

I don't like to dance.

Both ways are natural-sounding ways to express this, so don't worry too much.

  • Actually, "I don't like dancing" may mean that the speaker doesn't like even to watch others dancing. "I don't like to dance" means that the speaker prefers not to dance, but expresses nothing about dancing by others. There is sometimes a vast difference in meaning between usage of the infinitive and of the gerund-participle. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 19:41

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