For example,

I volunteered supporting people living on the streets.

Can we regard "supporting peope living ~ streets" as "the direct object" of "volunteered"?

I think we can and a more natural wording would be "I volunteered to support..." as the semantic of "volunteer" seems to be to do with these verbs such as "want" or "wish" as are all more often taking to-infinitives directly than gerunds.

(Just as a side note, for non-native speakers it's horrifyingly hard to make a verdict of whether a verb can take a gerund or infinitive even if there's lots of dictionaries around because they normally don't explain which one is correct, what's more, the information regarding this topic is too poor. The reason I'm saying this is that someone voted for closing my question similar to this question for the reason that it's such a question that can be solvable just by looking it up in dictionaries. No, it can't!, so I'm asking here.)

  • 1
    It's pretty much a matter of memorization. Some verbs are followed by gerunds and some by infinitives. In the case of your example: "I volunteered to support people living on the streets." Here's a list of common verbs and the form that follows: engvid.com/english-resource/…
    – Karen927
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 0:19
  • @Karen927 I wouldn't think at least in this case of "volunteer" there is any strict rule on whether to use "gerund" or "infinitive" but I just only think "volunteer" can take either, though the meaning is more natural when "infinitive" is used as "volunteer" seems to sound semantically identical to "want" in the context because these two verbs imply the willingness. Not to say that "want" can take "infinitive" or "gerund".
    – GKK
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 0:48
  • yes anything is possible if you want to speak sloppy English. Save yourself the worry and just memorize the verb-prep combos.
    – Karen927
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 2:07

1 Answer 1


I volunteered supporting people living on the streets.

The problem with using the -ing form in this particular sentence is that it's ambiguous.

It could be interpreted in either of these ways:

  1. I volunteered to [support people living on the street].
    I volunteered to [clean up the room].

  2. I volunteered [supporting people living on the street] to do something.
    I volunteered [cleaning staff] to clean up the room.

What a supporting person in the second interpretation would be, I don't know—and that makes it even more confusing than it would be if a more common noun (like cleaning staff) were used. But you'd be rounding them up and presenting them somewhere as volunteers.

The first interpretation uses the verb intransitively, while the second uses it transitively.

The exact sentence used in the question also adds to the ambiguity:

  1. I volunteered cleaning staff.
  2. I volunteered supporting people living on the street.

Although it's conceivable in the first sentence that you could have volunteered to wash staff members, it's unlikely, and common sense says that cleaning staff is a compound noun and volunteered is being used transitively.

But the meaning of the second sentence is far less obvious, so common sense can't apply as easily, and it remains more ambiguous than the second sentence.

However, context could make it more clear:

"I volunteered firefighters. Who did you volunteer?"
"I volunteered supporting people living on the street.

While this now makes the meaning clear, it doesn't prevent supporting people itself from sounding unnatural. I assume that it would normally be phrased differently:

"I volunteered support staff living on the street."
"I volunteered cleaning staff living on the street."
"I volunteered secretaries living on the street."

So, it's not necessarily the case that you can't follow volunteer with a word that ends in -ing. In some contexts, it's quite possible. You just need to be careful of those contexts where it's ambiguous or otherwise unnatural.

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