I would like to know the difference in meaning between to-infinitive and to-preposition.

  1. That will be the key to determine the profit outlook for bank

  2. We had found the key to determining a good workplace: ask the people who work there.

both sentences are from NY Times; i searched them on google.

to-infinitive and to-preposition, how do they differ in meaning?

How should I use them correctly?

  • Can you link the original contexts for those quotes? In particular, I'm wondering if they're direct quotes from people other than the journalists who wrote those pieces, because the first has bad grammar, and the second has bad semantics.
    – gotube
    Aug 17, 2021 at 21:50
  • i used ludwig ; typed both phrases in bold
    – briannjs
    Aug 18, 2021 at 15:34

2 Answers 2


The expression is "the key to + [noun]", so "determining" is correct. However, neither sentence is correct as is.

The first is wrong because the grammar is wrong. The first part of the quote on its own could mean, "That is the key (thing) to determine", where "that" is what needs to be determined, but then the rest of the sentence doesn't fit.

The second is wrong semantically because you cannot "determine a good workplace". You can determine what a good workplace is, and that's probably the intent here.


To my native ears, the participle sounds more natural, and also smacks faintly of being more recent; that is, I could more easily imagine my grandparents using the infinitive. However, neither option sounds wrong.

These observations seem to be borne out by a Google Ngrams search:

key to determining vs key to determine

  • i used ngrams to search "keys to determine,keys to determining" instead. the result is that they show similar prevalence; hmmm why is that
    – briannjs
    Aug 18, 2021 at 15:32
  • @briannjs Good question. In the context you asked about, "X is key to determine/determining Y," "key" is an adjective so it looks like the singular. But there are more contexts the phrase could appear in, such as "We need a key / keys to determine X" and "The key / keys to determining X are Y," and these could take singular or plural. In other words, the plural finds these ambivalent contexts, but singular finds both the ambivalent contexts and the one you asked about. Aug 18, 2021 at 15:53
  • Ohhhhh thx so much!
    – briannjs
    Aug 18, 2021 at 16:19

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