Is there a rule for using gerunds and infinitives instead of memorizing the verbs? I mean when to use gerund or infinitive just by looking at the sentence.

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    There's discussion of verb licensing, with further links, here. You may also check out question on the licensing tag. May 22, 2014 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


There is no such rule. Each verb has its own rules for what sorts of complement clause it 'licenses', and it has little or nothing to do with semantics.

This is in fact a question which has had a lot of attention from linguists in the last fifteen or twenty years. Some general tendencies have been observed, such as the “Great Complement Shift”, the tendency over the past five or six hundred years for gerund complements to replace infinitive complements, or that gerunds tend to be preferred in ‘Backward-looking’ contexts and infinitives in ‘Forward-looking’ contexts.

But these are no more than statistical tendencies: they have no predictive value and cannot be relied on to determine what form should be used in any particular instance with any particular verb. I'm afraid the only sure guide is to consult actual contemporary usage for each verb.

  • That is to say, sometimes even native speakers don't know whether to use gerund or infinitive when they meet an unfamiliar verb, and they also should check up usage of the verb in a dictionary?
    – GKK
    Feb 28, 2018 at 23:00
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    @EvaristeGalois That's pretty much it. You can only learn which to use with a specific verb by becoming familiar with the uses of the verb--painfully tautologous, I know! Feb 28, 2018 at 23:42

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