I can say:

I love to read. I hate to read.

But it must be:

I enjoy to read. I enjoy reading.

What is enjoy so different?


3 Answers 3


A good question: Why do some verbs take a to-infinitive and why are some verbs followed by a gerund. The silly thing is grammars don't give an answer to this interesting question. They only give lists. And that does not give an understanding of language.

When you study the problem verb + to-infinitive (to-inf) or gerund in grammars you will find the following lists:
a) verbs (verbs) + to-infinitive
b) vbs + gerund
c) vbs + to infinitive/gerund (with no difference in meaning)
c) vbs + to inf/gerund (with a difference in meaning)

These lists are not optimal and there is not comment. What one has to know is the normal verb-construction is verb + to-inf. There are hundreds of verbs + to-inf. Grammars give only a small list of common verbs + to-inf. As this verb-construction is the normal thing you don't have to learn this list by heart.

verbs + gerund
The general rule is when the verb is followed by a preposition you automatically use the gerund as it is the noun-form of a verb. After a preposition only a noun/noun group or a gerund can follow. In the lists given in grammars for verbs + gerund you find a lot of verbs with prepositions. You don't have to learn these verbs as it is a general rule that after a preposition there can be no to-infinitive but only a gerund.

But in the list of verbs + gerund there are some verbs where the preposition is dropped. Often it is the word with.

Some examples:

  • to stop smoking - Fill in "with/with the" and you will understand why people say "to stop smoking".
  • They spent some time playing chess (They spent some time with playing chess)
  • I couldn't help laughing (Probably: I couldn't help against laughing)

As for "to enjoy + gerund" I would say the verb actually means to be in joy about something.
So when you say "I enjoy reading" then you could explain the use of the gerund by saying:
I am in joy about/by reading. I don't know whether this is historically correct, but it may be probable, in any case it makes the use of the gerund plausible.

In the lists verb + gerund there is a small number of verbs that need a gerund where obviously no preposition was omitted. And these verbs are the only ones that must be learnt.
And this group of verbs is not very large.

This is meant to give some help and understanding. But the problem to-infinitive or gerund is a problem in English grammar and must be studied carefully in a good grammar.

  • 1
    I would prefer that those who give minus marks add their comment. What's the use of a minus mark when one does not see the differing view.
    – rogermue
    Feb 11, 2014 at 15:00
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    Rogermue, I see you are really trying to be helpful and I think you mentioned you're teaching English as well. I didn't downvote this, but you asked for feedback so I will give some. Your writing is difficult to read. Your writing skills need improvement in a number of areas. I suggest that you take your posts that score low, and find someone that can review & help you to improve. This itself would help you more than any other suggestions I might give. Feb 23, 2014 at 1:20
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    ...continued... Your abbreviations don't look bad to you, but I see this: "The sed+lud rule for cj inf + neen is always followed by the neen's ruf or the neen's ruf+lud." Your use of abbreviations might make your job easier, but it's making your reader's job more difficult. Abbrevs work well in some environments. If you're teaching and your going to see the same student many times, then it may help to make abbrevs. Writing a book on grammar? Use abbrevs. But it's too high a burden for a single reader to learn your abbrev for a single post. Feb 23, 2014 at 1:49
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    I'm now upvoting your answer because I took the time to understand you, and you actually have a lot of good things to say. It just takes so much energy to decipher you. I've spent this time giving you feedback because I think you have a passion to write and teach English, and you could become very good at it. Strive to get get more points-per-question here. That is a pretty good objective measure of your improvement. Feb 23, 2014 at 4:31
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    I think the advice given by @CoolHand is spot on. I think most regulars here would find it easier to read gerund than ger, preposition than prp, and to-infinitive than tinf – even if you were writing one of these 18 times in an answer. Know your audience. Sure, the sciences use abbreviations, but those abbreviations aren't overused on the Stack Exchange, and they are no substitute for eloquence. I, too, think a) vbs (verbs) + tinf b) vbs + ger c) vbs + tinf/ger (with no difference) is a bit much.
    – J.R.
    Feb 24, 2014 at 15:10

As others said here, it's about the verb pattern. Some take gerund, some take infinitive and some take infinitive or gerund.

The verb like enjoy, mind, etc. take another verb with gerund (-ing) as their pattern. The verbs love and hate are among the verbs that can be followed by either gerund or infinitive as in here. So, you can also say - I love/hate reading.

I tried looking into a few sources and everything comes up with the list. The only thing that comes to my mind is to remember those special verbs and their patterns.

Another link in case you want a specific reference for verb + -ing, it's here on the British Council website.

  • 1
    +1 for the links. In any case, it's difficult to come up with a comprehensive list, and we would need to look up dictionaries to be sure about each specific verb. Feb 11, 2014 at 9:49

Should we say "I like swimming" or "I like to swim"? Seemingly there isn't much difference in the meaning of the two sentences.

As a matter of fact, it is more a question of context, just like sometimes you would say "it started raining" and sometimes "It started to rain", although we may argue that context and meaning are more or less linked together. For instance, the adjective CLEVER can be interpreted as having the meaning of STUPID in a context of irony (Oh, you're so clever!).

The question must be studied as a whole. It can be a tricky one for learners as well as for teachers who may be native speakers of the English language but who are still at a loss what to do when they have to give a real explanation that goes beyond "it's a grammatical rule and that's just the way it is".

I do not hold the absolute truth about grammar but let me give you a few ideas:

If you say "He stopped watching TV", the verb STOP is followed by the verb WATCH in the sentence, but you will easily understand that if you stop doing something, you must do that thing before you stop doing it. Logically, the verb that comes after STOP in the sentence is actually before it in the order of the actions: you have to watch TV before you stop watching it. The verb STOP implies or infers logical anteriority as well as a strong link between what you were doing and what you stopped doing.

Notice that you may say "He stopped to watch TV" but then it would mean something like "He stopped reading the newspaper to watch TV". In this case the verb WATCH would not be implied in the logical anteriority of STOP and the meaning would be quite different: you weren't watching TV when you stopped reading the newspaper.

You may also notice the difference between "I remember locking the door" and "Remember to lock the door!". When you remember doing something you logically have done that thing before you can remember doing it. If someone tells you to do something or asks you to remember to do something you can't have done it yet.

Now the problem is more subtle when it comes to "I like swimming" or "I like to swim" for there isn't much difference in the meaning. It seems to me that you would say "I like swimming" when in the previous context there are obvious clues of what you like. Then "I like simming" is a sort of conclusive statement built on what you have said before. "I like to swim" is sort of unexpected and refers to a tendency that you have (I'm prone to swim).

Some speakers would say "I like to go to the dentist's twice a year" meaning "I find it wise to go to the dentist's twice a year". This doesn't mean that they enjoy going to the dentist's but that they like wisdom. Moreover, you would say this in a context when the hearer is not supposed to know this information for it is unecpected or rather unimplied. Who would suspect that you like "to go there twice a year"? It's a personal tendency, a way of stating one's idiosyncracy.

Notice that if you can say either "I like simming" or "I like to swim", in the present simple, you have to say "I would like to swim / I'd like to go for a swim" in the conditional: it is obvious that you aren't swimming if you would like to swim. The verb SWIM is not previous to what you would like to do. It's the same if you say "I want to swim". That's why you can't say "*I want swimming".

Now you can say "This flower needs watering" or "This flowers wants watering", but the verbs NEED and WANT take a sort of passive meaning in which it is not the flower that wants to do someting but in which someone refers to implied meaning: the flower is not in a good condition.

It gets even more subtle when you deal with a verb such as START. Should we say "It started to rain" or "It started raining"? Both are correct and have seemingly no differences in their meanings. However, if you say "It started raining heavily", you may infer that it was already somewhat raining before (there was some rain and then the rain became more intense / It had to be raining before it rained heavily). If you say "It started to rain" it may suggest that the information is presented as totally new to the hearer (there was no rain at all and the hearer had no clue in the previous context).

Note that if someone tells you "I went on talking about politics", it means that he or she was already talking about politics (= he kept on talking about politics), but if someone says "I went on to talk about politics", it means that he or she was dealing with another subject (for instance, he talked about linguistics and then he talked about politics). there's continuity in the action of talking but discontinuity about the subject dealt with.

Now I'm not certain that "I enjoy to do" is absolutely agrammatical (= wrong). I've been looking up the internet and I found two sentences: "I enjoy being a girl" and "I enjoy to be a girl". Is the second really wrong?

In grammar you have the concept of "sentence". A sentence is good if it respects grammatical rules, for instance the -S ending in the third person of the singular in the present simple: I like chocolate (good) / he likes chocolate (good) / he like chocolate (wrong). In linguistics we'd rather speak about "utturance". An utturance is a sentence which is not just grammatically correct, but which is taken in context (when, why and how you say something). Sometimes you'd say "I like dancing" and sometimes "I like to move it move it". They are both correct even though the latter seems a little substandard. But what would you rather say?

It is therefore important to study a form or a sentence in its context. Here are two examples about START + Ving and START + V:

Example: It's hard to believe that a little more than a year ago it started raining, and it didn't stop until Boulder received almost a year's worth of rain in just eight days. As a community, we're still reeling from the effects of this unprecedented storm, and we continue to learn and recover with each passing day. (The Boulder flood: One year later, By Jane S. Brautigam)

Context: a journalist writes an article about a dreadful flood that had happened the previous year. His readers are well aware of what he's writing about (as a commnnity, we're still reeling from the effects...).

Form studied: It started raining

Explanation: The journalist writes "It started raining" and not "It started to rain" because he's dealing with something that his readers can remember easily. He's dealing with shared knowledge or implied knowledge. The -ING ending is the trace of something that is already known and shared.

Example: With the score tied at 3-3 in the seventh inning on Friday, umpires suspended the game when rain started to fall. The teams finished the contest Saturday before playing their regulary-scheduled game. The Pirates won 5-3 in 11 innings. (Pirates Defeat Cubs 5-3 in Completion of Suspended Game, MLB news)

Form studied : rain started to fall

Context and explanation: A jounalit relates what happened in a baseball game. The article is purely informational. It's not about remembering what happened but delivering new information about what happened. The reader is not supposed to know anything about it. There's no shared or implied knowledge. That's why we have "rain started to fall" rather than "rain started falling". TO is not a marker of the infinitive but a linguistic tool that seems to point forward, toward new information. TO (started to fall) is not a preposition either (as in "He went to school'). However, it always points somewhere, to an actual place, to a point, to forward information, whatever its use or grammatical label.

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