What is the difference between the following?

A) She likes to be looked at.

B) She likes being looked at.

Could you please elaborate your explanations? The more detail, the better.


2 Answers 2


As @Joe says, in most such contexts there's no discernible difference in meaning. But in some contexts there is a possible distinction between infinitive/gerund (or simple/continuous tense). For example,...

Always tell the truth, but don't always be telling the truth.

...which could be mirrored by something closer to OP's example, such as...

I want you always to tell the truth, but not always to be telling the truth.

In such constructions we're forced to acknowledge that the -ing versions emphasise continuously doing something (in this case, the intended sense is that whenever you do say something it should be true, but sometimes it would be better not to say anything at all).

But in OP's example it would be stretching a point to suggest that the first version means if she happens to be aware that people are looking at her, she likes it, and that the second version carries more the implication that she's only really content when people are looking at her.

It's also worth noting what happens if we substitute a different verb...

1: She wants to be looked at.
2: ?? She wants being looked at.
3: She wants looking at.

...where #2 wouldn't normally be considered grammatically acceptable, and #3 would almost always be interpreted as an idiomatic format meaning [objectively speaking] it would be better if she were looked at. Some people would allow that interpretation for #1, but it would more naturally be seen as equivalent (or at least, extremely similar) to both OP's examples.


Both the sentences are the same. In English, both the infinitive (to _____) and the gerund (___ing) are used as nouns. This makes both of them the same.

  • hank you so much, but which one and when would you rather apply them in writing/speech?
    – nima
    Jan 1, 2014 at 16:59
  • @nima_persian I would use them interchangeably. When I read the two sentences, I don't perceive even a subtle difference, though others are free to weigh in, and I can see myself using either one without even a preference for one form over the other.
    – godel9
    Jan 1, 2014 at 17:11
  • Personally I would prefer to use the infinitive (to be) because it fits more with how other languages would do it (i think) Jan 2, 2014 at 5:29

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