I like to play basketball

I like playing basketball

What's the difference between these two?


2 Answers 2


There is a small difference in meaning. When verbs like love, hate, like are followed by gerund, they refer to a general activity and when they are followed by infinitives, they refer to a particular occasion.

According to Cambridge dictionary:

The -ing form emphasises the action or experience. The to-infinitive gives more emphasis to the results of the action or event. We often use the -ing form to suggest enjoyment (or lack of it), and the to-infinitive form to express habits or preferences.

  • I agree with the Cambridge quote, but it's worth noting that this difference is so subtle that it's almost imperceptible. Most native speakers would be hard-pressed to explain a difference between the OP's two statements.
    – J.R.
    Aug 15, 2018 at 13:53
  • I'd echo J.R., it's such a subtle difference that I'd never even considered there WAS a difference until I noticed this question! To all intents and purposes you can use them interchangeably. I've learned something today with this question :)
    – david_c
    Aug 15, 2018 at 13:58
  • @david_c - This sort of difference is likely to go unnoticed during conversation, although a careful proofreader might suggest a change in a written document.
    – J.R.
    Aug 15, 2018 at 14:25
  • With all due respect to Cambridge, I think they're drawing a distinction that simply doesn't exist in common use. In fact, if pressed, I would have said it was the other way around -- "The children hate to go to the doctor" is general, while "The children hate going to the doctor" is specific, and suggests some additional context like "unless we promise them ice cream afterward". If the difference would go unnoticed in conversation, then it's probably no difference at all.
    – Andrew
    Aug 18, 2018 at 12:02

Most English grammarians do not explain this adequately.

I follow the explanation given by a French linguist whose area was English grammar, believe it or not.

He said the following:

I like to play basketball uses TO as an operator (like in math). It links up the I like to the verb phrase. I like||to|| play tennis. I like this activity. It sets up a predicative relationship between I like and play basketball.


I like playing basketball uses the ing form of the verb to express the notion or idea of the verb play. The notion of playing appeals to subject. The absence of the operator word TO limits the meaning to the semantic notion itself of play or playing.

I like||playing tennis. The gerund is a noun here.

The French author's name is Henri Henri Adamczewski and the book is: La Grammaire linguistique de l'anglais.

  • Thank you for answering, but it is still a bit ambiguous. Could you make it clearer, like the difference between them.
    – Young
    Aug 15, 2018 at 17:59
  • One "creates" a predicate and the other is about the pure notion. I like to play tennis implies you do play tennis and like it. I like playing tennis emphasizes the playing part.
    – Lambie
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:05
  • This explains the syntactical rules that allow the given sentences. But it doesn't explain the difference in meaning (if there is one) between them.
    – The Photon
    Aug 16, 2018 at 3:49
  • @The Photon No time today, I will come back to this.
    – Lambie
    Aug 16, 2018 at 13:15

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