I have written the sentence but grammarly.com says that you need to change "have" to "having".

The key to have having a successful marriage is to remain calm during conflicts because it is nearly impossible to patch things up after a couple break up.

Why is "have" wrong here?

  • 2
    Of course, "the key to have is the silver one - it unlocks this door" is perfectly acceptable, but it's a different usage.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 17:16
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    'having' denotes a continued state.
    – TaW
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 8:19
  • "having" is a noun.
    – Boann
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 14:27
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    Note that, although your grammar-checker was right in this case, you can't rely on that; grammar-checkers are very often wrong. So instead of asking why "have" is wrong, it would have been better to ask whether "have" is wrong, and if so why.
    – ruakh
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 4:47

2 Answers 2


The idiom is "The key to something", with "to" being a preposition, used idiomatically instead of "for". So we say "the key to the door" or "the key to my heart".

So after "the key to ..." we need the object of the preposition "to", this can be a noun or a gerund, but not a verb. So "The key to having..." is correct, "the key to have...." is not correct.

Don't think that "to" always marks an infinitive. Sometimes it is just a preposition.

  • 2
    Note that a gerund is a noun: it is a noun derived from a verb.
    – randomhead
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 16:14
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    I'd rather say a gerund/participle is a gerund/participle. This can distinguish between the gerund "building" and the noun "a building", even though the noun has clearly been formed from the participle. But gerunds can be the subjects or objects in a sentencne
    – James K
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 16:34
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    Gerund-participles are verbs! That’s why they can take direct objects and don’t need an ‘of’. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 21:41
  • I still say that gerund/participles are neither nouns, verbs nor adjectives. They are their own category.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 10:00
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    One can debate endlessly whether gerunds are nouns. But what’s important here is that they form noun phrases — the phrase like “having a successful marriage” functions syntactically like a noun. “Having a successful marriage is important”, “I dream of having a successful marriage”, etc.
    – PLL
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 11:17

"Having a" means that something you "possess" is on-going (typically a process):

I am having a very bad day at the office.


the key to having a successful marriage

is the same as

the key to an ongoing successful marriage

On the other hand, "have" is something you possess at a point in time:

I had a unsuccessful marriage, but now I have a successful marriage, and (hopefully) will have a successful marriage.

Merge the point in time with the on-going process to get:

I have had a successful marriage, and hope to keep having a successful marriage.

  • 1
    This answer is unhelpful. The question is not about semantics: it's about the (unpredictable) syntactic requirements of particular words in English. Key can take an object phrase introduced by the preposition to, including one where the object phrase is an -ing clause; it cannot take a to-infinitive clause. In this is it is unlike the verb want, the adjective inclined, and the noun reason, all of which can take to-infinitive clauses.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 10:11
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    @ColinFine "Having a" means that something you "possess" is on-going (typically a process) is exactly why "The key to have a successful marriage" is wrong. It's your right to see it as unhelpful, but you're wrong.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 10:34
  • As Colin Fine says, this answer is wrong. We always say "the key to X-ing" rather than "the key to X", regardless of whether we say "I am X-ing" rather than "I X". In fact, your examples demonstrate this: we say "I have a successful marriage", not *"I'm having a successful marriage".
    – ruakh
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 4:45
  • @ruakh at this point in time "I have a successful marriage". I can't know whether it will continue to be a successful marriage. Ergo, it is not an on-going process. What we can say, though, is "I hope to keep having a successful marriage", which is a continuing process.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 5:47
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    An unhelpful and confusing answer if I ever saw one. The point is, "a key to" must be followed by a noun or something acting as one, in that case a gerund clause. Progressivity has nothing to do with it. "the life to lead" describes a process too, and yet "the life to leading" doesn't mean a thing.
    – kuroi neko
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 14:06

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