I have a doubt with the use of gerunds, infinitives and imperatives in a specific kind of use. I'm a native Spanish speaker, so if I want to say: "Cumplir promesas" How would I say it in English?

  1. To keep promises
  2. Keeping promises
  3. Keep promises

I have no an exact context but for example, in the case you want to define something.

And why would I say it like that? Thanks in advance,

  • 1
    The form used in English is variable according to the context - the syntax of the sentence. I'm sorry for not providing a more definitive answer. Sep 20, 2021 at 0:19
  • @JackO'Flaherty thank you so much, but for example if I want to define "break up" : "to end", "ending" or "end" a relationship. What is the best option?
    – Mary
    Sep 20, 2021 at 0:29
  • "End" is a verb that can occur in multiple forms, depending on the syntax of the sentence it's in. Are you asking about what form to use in an utterance, or what form to use in a dictionary definition? Sep 20, 2021 at 1:03
  • About dictionary definition, just like defining something.
    – Mary
    Sep 20, 2021 at 1:33
  • In dictionaries we tend to use infinitives. The "to" is often omitted in that context. Sep 20, 2021 at 3:42

1 Answer 1


"Cumplir promesas"

There is no single translation that will work in all cases. I won't cover all cases here: I will concentrate on how to specify definitions but mention a few related points.

  • Most dictionaries will translate a verb or verb phrase using an infinitive or infinitival phrase. However, most will omit the "to": keep promises (or perhaps it should be keep one's promises?). This is still an infinitive, even though it's identical in form to the imperative. Infinitives exist both with and without "to"; notably, the bare infinitive occurs after auxiliaries, e.g. in "she might be there".
  • Often a vocabulary list outside a dictionary will include the "to", but not always. Someone writing their own vocabulary list may include the "to" to remind themselves that it's a verb (and that it's an infinitive). If you are annotating a Spanish conjugation, including the "to" is also usual, but not mandatory.
  • If you are explaining the meaning to someone in the form of an "X means Y" sentence, you'll probably also use an infinitive (probably with "to"): "'Cumplir promesas' means 'to keep promises'." "Keeping promises" would also work, though.
  • However, this doesn't mean that the phrase in isolation is translated as an infinitive. If you had "cumplir promesas" as a heading, subheading or book title, the most likely translation would be "Keeping promises". There are some well known phrases, idioms and clichés where an infinitive would be used ("To be or not to be?"), but otherwise, the -ing form is more likely.
  • If it is a caption on a button or menu in an app, either the bare infinitive or the imperative will be used (they are always the same in form), so the reader can interpret "Save" either as an instruction to the computer to save something or as shorthand meaning "[click here to] save".

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