I know the difference between "stop doing" and "stop to do". Is it the same difference with "cease doing" and "cease to do"? I was told that it's not the same.

I ceased to smoke. may mean two things

I stopped smoking

I stopped to smoke.

Do you agree? If yes, how can one tell one from the other?

PS I have come across an opinion of a native speaker that "to cease to do something" can mean two things "stop doing" and "stop to do". DO you agree?

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    By stop to do, do you mean stop doing something else in order to...? That's the only sense in which you can say I stopped to smoke, and even that sounds odd without context. Cease is rather more formal than stop - you wouldn't say "Cease tickling me!" - but ceased to [verb] means stopped [verb]ing. Oct 2, 2021 at 12:14
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    The semantics of the two words are broadly equivalent, but the syntax of cease and stop are different. Specifically, it's usually just a stylistic choice whether to follow cease with a gerund (smoking) or an infinitive (to smoke). But when stop is followed by to (and an infinitive verb, never a continuous form), it usually means in order to. Oct 2, 2021 at 12:49
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    Note that Cease tickling me! and Cease to tickle me! are both syntactically fine, and ean the same. But they're both vanishingly uncommon compared to Stop tickling me! And Stop to tickle me! is idiomatically invalid (unless it'sin some very contrived contexts where the intended meaning is Stop doing whatever you're currently doing, so that you can start tickling me instead! Oct 2, 2021 at 12:53
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    As I already said, it's just a stylistic choice whether to say "I ceased smoking" or "I ceased to smoke". The choice doesn't affect the meaning (but whichever you chose, your audience would probably wonder why you didn't use the word stop the same as everyone else! :) Oct 2, 2021 at 12:56
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    I meant that cease would not be used in informal speech (unless the speaker was using 'high-sounding' language in joke). I was only trying to establish what you understood 'I stopped to smoke' to mean. Oct 2, 2021 at 13:12

2 Answers 2


The verb ‘cease‘ means ‘to stop an action or condition‘.

But the verb ‘cease' is used in formal context whereas the verb 'stop' is used informally.

"I stopped smoking".

It means : I stopped the activity of smoking.

"I stopped to smoke".

It means : I stopped somewhere in order to smoke.


"I ceased to smoke" Or "I ceased smoking"

Both the sentences mean that I stopped the activity of smoking; but the verb 'cease' can't be used in such an informal situation. We always use 'cease' in formal context, for example, "He ordered his men to cease fire (= stop shooting)"


According to Google Ngrams, the expression ceased working (blue line) and its more popular equivalent ceased to work (red line) were commonly used in publications from the mid-nineteenth century until the early 1940s. Since that period, their usage in print has seen a steady decline.

Google Ngram chart #1

When we match ceased to work and ceased working with stopped to work (which has its own distinct meaning) and stopped working, it becomes immediately apparent that both examples were less common in print than their formal opponents until the late-1930s when instances of stopped working (green line) saw a vertiginous rise; roughly a 350% increase.

Google Ngram chart #2

Looking at the examples from Google Books, we can see that there is negligible—if any—difference in meaning between ceased working and ceased to work: In other words, their use is interchangeable. Either phrase can refer to someone who retires; a person who takes a rest; a thing that breaks down; or something that is no longer operating.


  • (1857) The collieries which have entirely ceased working, are those which, even during times of regulation, were illegitimate subjects of speculation—such as many of those established by the great coal companies…

  • (1861) Now, if he ceased working on the Sunday, he could with the same men and horses work the cabs six days a week…

  • (1884) The pump ceased working owing to the reversing piston-rod packing rings breaking


  • (1871) On the 10th of January last, there had been eleven (11) meters attached, and every one of the distilleries had ceased to work.

  • (1889) The old system ceased to exist, it became impossible, when the master mechanic ceased to work with his men and when modern methods of conducting business required that labor should be subdivided.

  • (1891) ‘What did I prophesy for you, Roland? That you should be a great painter? Well, my prophecy will come true.’
    ‘I hope, but I fear. I am beginning the world again.’
    ‘Not quite. Because you have never ceased to work. Your hand is firmer and your eye is truer now than it was four years ago, when you ceased—to exhibit. But you have never ceased to work. So that you go back to the world with better things.’
    ‘They refused to buy my things before.’
    ‘They will not refuse now. Nay, I am certain. Don't think of money my old friend: you must not—you shall not think of money. Think of nothing but your work and—your name.’

    Source: Armorel of Lyonesse by Walter Besant

in the 20th century

As can be seen in the examples below, the meaning between the two forms is not different. What is different is the style and tone of writing. In reports, bulletins, litigations, and tax petitions, the expression “ceased working” is sometimes preferred.

  • (1949) I have just stopped working, and I want to know what I must do to receive my annuity again.

  • (1970) The de Leon family eventually stopped working for Armendariz because of the ill effects they were suffering from the chemical poisons on the grapevines

  • (1973) While some of the widows went to work following the deaths of their husbands, others stopped working

  • (1981) As expected, more older respondents stopped working by age 65. Withdrawal from the labor force is the primary cause of the reduction in income experienced by the RHS respondents, as shown in table 4.

  • (2012) My iPhone stopped working. I was walking in the rain and my phone fell out of my pocket. It was only in the rain for 3 seconds, but it completely stopped working and I had to get a new one.

  • (2015) The radio had stopped working consistently a year earlier; it would come to life only if I hit a pothole or stopped suddenly enough to violently shake the car and spark a connection.

  • (1938) The great majority of the present annuitants, and of the applicants who have ceased working, are relatively advanced in age, have had long years of service in the railroad industry, and have last worked in the industry since August 29, 1935.

  • (1948) In the immediate neighbourhood the grist mills on the local streams at Woolleigh, Beaford, Huntshaw mill in Torrington, Water - gate, Langtree mill and others have ceased working; only three, Drummitt's mill in Frithelstock, Monkleigh, and Orleigh mill in Buckland Brewer, still function.

  • (1978) In the present case, petitioner ceased working as a licensed practical nurse in 1969 for presumably personal reasons. For the next three years she did not actively seek employment as a licensed practical nurse.

  • (1981) This sharp decline in the labor force is highlighted in table 3, which documents change in work status between 1969 and 1975. During that time, 42 percent of the respondents ceased working. A similar proportion continued to work. As expected, more older respondents stopped working by age 65.

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