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I can understand what does it mean but I don't know when to use gerund or infinitive. I have no problem about understanding. I just want to understand the sense. As far as I know some of these words must be used with "to + gerund" such as: "approach to, contributed to" and so on. Also some of these must be used with "to + verb" such as: "want to, continue to". Despite I can understand meaning somehow, I don't know what does it mean exactly.

Questions:

  1. What is the differences between "to + verb" and "to + gerund"? How can I differ which one should I use?
  2. Do I have to memorize or is there senseful way to understand?
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  • You haven't given any actual examples. Are you asking why we can say #1 I want to swim, but we can't say #2 I want to swimming? Note that with a different verb we can validly say both #3 I like swimming AND #4 I like to swim. Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 16:00
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    There is no semantic difference. As you surmise, some words take a gerund, some take an infinitive, and some take either. This is as arbitrary, and should be as much part of the dictionary entry of a word, as its spelling or pronunciation.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 16:49
  • Thanks @ColinFine but what did you mean by "This is as arbitrary"? Can I put gerund or infinitive arbitrarily?
    – user123960
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 17:45
  • No. It's arbitrary in the sense that there is no rule that explains why it should be that way, but you need to use the right kind of complement to be speaking grammatical English.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 21:33
  • It's not arbitrary. See my answer
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 3:02

1 Answer 1

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You're mixing up two separate problems here.

First, you ask about "to + gerund". In this situation, "to" is followed by a noun form, not an infinitive verb, so "to" must be a preposition rather than the infinitive marker. In "contribute to" something, "to" is a preposition as well. So your first problem is how to know when to use a noun after "to", and when to use an infinitive verb. It's usually easy enough to figure out from the context whether a noun or verb comes next. If a noun comes next, use gerund, otherwise the infinitive.

The second problem you seem to be asking about is how to determine whether after a particular verb you should use a gerund (note: it's not "to + gerund", just "gerund") or "to + infinitive" (I'm inferring that "to + verb" means "to + infinitive"). This is a harder problem, as both forms represent verbal meaning.

Mostly students memorize several lists of verbs: one list of verbs that take gerund after, and second list of verbs that take infinitive after, a third list of verbs that can take either and it doesn't change the meaning, and a fourth list of verbs that can take either, but it changes the meaning. This does eventually work, but it's slow and painful because it seems there's no reason.

But I noticed a pattern I haven't seen in any book which has helped my students guess which type of verb to use. In any sentence like this, there's two verbs. Let's call them verb 1 and verb 2. So, in the example sentences: "I enjoy drawing" and "I want to visit my sister", "enjoy" and "want" are verb 1 and "draw" and "visit" are verb 2. Our job is to figure out what form verb 2 should be.

The general rule is: if verb 2 happens after verb 1, then verb 2 will usually be "to + infinitive". This means if verb 2 happens before verb 1, at the same time, or just generally, then verb 2 will usually be a gerund.

Some examples:

"I want to visit my sister."

"Visit" happens after "want", so we use "to". The same works for other verbs of the future, like "hope", "wish", "plan", "learn", "agree", "choose", "promise" etc.

"I quit smoking."

"Smoking" only happens before you "quit", so we use a gerund. Some other verbs with a past meaning are "admit", "justify", "excuse", "ban", "acknowledge", "celebrate".

"I enjoy drawing."

"Enjoy" and "draw" happen at the same time, or you might say it's generally true without any real time relationship. Some similar verbs include "tolerate", "imagine", "dislike", "end up", "can't help", and "avoid".

A big advantage of this is that for all the verbs that have different meanings depending on which form you choose, you can correctly predict the meaning if you remember that "to" means future:

"I remembered to lock the door."

This means I locked the door after I remembered, so it uses "to" + infinitive.

"I remember locking the door."

This means first I locked the door, then later I remembered, so it uses a gerund.

"I'm trying to put on more muscle."

This means now I'm trying, the future goal is to put on more muscle, so we use "to" + infinitive.

"I've tried eating more protein."

Here, "trying" and "eating" happen at the same time, so we use gerund.

On the whole, it's about 90% accurate, which I think is way better than nothing, but there are exceptions:

"Advise", "consider", "propose", "support", and "suggest" all have a future meanings, but use a gerund. "Appear", "fail", and "seem" have non-future meanings, but use "to + infinitive".

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  • How can I know all of these word which are "with a past meaning" or "verbs of the future"? Or briefly how can I get the list which involves whether "to + gerund" or "to + infinitive"? Second question is that: I've read somewhere something like this: "If verb is towarding or heading like "orientated to" you should use "gerund" following "to", as in "orientated to stopping". It get me more confused because I've seen some sentences like "orientated to + verb". Is that true I've read?
    – user123960
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 9:49
  • @user123960 You can tell which is which by the meaning. The first three examples in my answer tell you how to figure it out. What about those examples doesn't explain it?
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 13:55

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