In the following conversation:

--- Did you have any problems in your English study?
--- Yes, _____ a friend to practice speaking with.

Is it correct to fill in the blank with "to find” Or "finding"?

The answer is "finding," but I think both would be correct. What's the difference between the two, infinitive and gerund?

  • We don't say: in your English study. That would mean a library in a private house done in an English style....have problems when studying English. – Lambie Apr 3 at 14:55

Finding is much more idiomatic there than to find.

I believe that this is because the omitted headword is problem. Problem normally takes an -ing clause as its complement, not a to clause.


We had a problem finding anybody.

is much more common than

?We had a problem to find anybody.

The iWeb corpus has 3977 instances of problem finding, and only 521 of problem to find; but actually the disparity is greater than that, because in many of the latter, to find is not actually the complement of problem, for example "we don't need to finish the long division problem to find the remainder".

As usual with such questions, there is no rule or logic to this: it's just the way that the word problem happens to work.

  • Why not state outright that find is really not idiomatic or grammatical here. – Lambie Apr 3 at 14:57
  • @Lambie Why is "to find" not grammatical? I don't think so from what I've learned: infinitives can act as a complement to nouns, also as Colin states – HypnoticBuggyWraithVirileBevy Apr 4 at 0:59
  • @HypnoticBuggyWraithVirileBevy: this is a much-discussed argument about just what "grammatical" means. Is it enough that a particular structure is allowed there in general, or does it also require that the particular words (in this case problem) license the use of that structure here? You take the first view, Lambie the second. – Colin Fine Apr 4 at 11:42
  • @HypnoticBuggyWraithVirileBevy It is isn't idiomatic in this context. I have a problem (finding a friend to practice with). Finding a fried to practice with is not easy. Compare that to this answer: I have a problem to find a friend to practice with. [buzzer] – Lambie Apr 4 at 14:33

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