0

Can you please help me with the following sentences which one would be correct? What is the difference between them and when I should use -ing form and when -to+infinitive in similar cases?

"I could see her eyes starting to tear up."

or

"I could see her eyes to start to tear up."

It's always difficult for me to differentiate these two type of expressions.

  • We would never use to start in this context. You can say "I could see her eyes start to tear up", and there is no great difference in meaning between that and "starting to" except that -ing emphasises that it was a gradual process. – Kate Bunting Dec 9 '19 at 17:06
  • Thank you very much! – Daniel Dec 10 '19 at 13:25
0

Particular verbs (and adjectives) take particular kinds of complement, and there are few general rules.

Verbs of perception such see, hear, and feel, can take:

  • a that clause: I saw that her eyes were starting to tear up.
  • an infinitive clause without to: I saw her eyes start to tear up.
  • a 'gerund' (-ing) clause: I saw her eyes starting to tear up.
  • other kinds of complement which are not relevant here.

But they cannot take a to infinitive clause: not I saw her eyes to start to tear up.

Other words have different patterns: know can take a that clause, and a to infinitive clause, but not the other two kinds. (There's a special context where know in the perfect can take an infinitive clause without to: I have known him go there; but otherwise it can't), Understand can take a that clause, a to clause, or a gerund clause, but not an infinitive clause without to.

For the most part, you just have to learn what complements a particular word takes.

| improve this answer | |
  • Many thanks for your answers. – Daniel Dec 10 '19 at 13:24
0
 "I could see her eyes starting to tear up."

^ This means that at a particular point in the past, the speaker was able to see the process of tears forming in the object's eyes beginning; there is a suggestion that this could or would continue to happen or progress to crying.

 "I could see her eyes start to tear up."

^ This is very close to the first in meaning, almost the same. It means that at a particular point in the past, the speaker observed and finished observing the start of the tears forming.

 "I could see her eyes to start to tear up."

^ This is incorrect use, the infinitive is not appropriate here. The subject comes directly before the verb for most non-stative constructions.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks for your answer. It was really useful. – Daniel Dec 10 '19 at 13:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.