The only thing you can do is eating it.

The only thing you can do is eat it.

The only thing you can do is jumping on it.

The only thing you can do is jump on it.

I am wondering if using the progressive here is wrong, because it does sound wrong, but I am not 100% sure why it's wrong.

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    You shouldn't have any "tensed" form of the verb. It's supposed to be an infinitive - usually, "unmarked" (without the "infinitive marker" to before the verb), but at least some people will say/write All you can do is to wait. But as a learner all you need to know (with infinitive marker almost always included there! :) is that other people might include to (but you probably shouldn't). Feb 20, 2021 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


The only thing you can do is [to] eat it. to is optional.

No progressive, just the bare form of the verb.

Basically, after is you get the bare verb or to plus a bare verb.

Compare: Eating it is the only thing you can do. There eating is not a progressive, it is a gerund noun.

Although the to is left out, it is the clue to the grammatical form here of a purpose clause.

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    Good point about the optional infinitive marker. But usually not included, I think. Feb 20, 2021 at 16:56
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    But what I don't understand is why Reading was the only thing I could do is fine (and has occurred in print a few times), whereas The only thing I could do was reading sounds awful to me, and doesn't occur at all in Google Books. Conversely, there are many written instances of The only thing I could do was to read (and plenty more without to), but none at all of To read was the only thing I could do. I feel there must be some "principle" involved there, but it's beyond me. Feb 20, 2021 at 17:08
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    @notsharingjake The parse of the sentence is not: "is eating". The dog is eating his dinner. There it is a progressive tense. The parse of your sentence is this: All you can do//is//eat. All you can //is//wait. The flag on the wall//is//large. The predicate here is the verb eat.
    – Lambie
    Feb 20, 2021 at 17:20
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    Please stop what? You have some real problems, man! Feb 20, 2021 at 17:38
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    @FumbleFingers You are, basically, not adding anything to what I said. Also, you keep giving answers in comments under the question instead of answering. When I do that, my stuff gets moved, when you do it, the mods let it stay. After "is" you need a noun
    – Lambie
    Feb 20, 2021 at 18:05

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