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  1. I like to sing.
  2. I like singing.

I don't know the difference in meaning. please tell me the difference. I am talking about nuance.

2 Answers 2

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I assume here your intended meaning is that when you sing, you enjoy it, and you're not talking about enjoying the sound of other people singing.

A short answer is that the two are always interchangeable with no significant difference in meaning, so as a language learner, you cannot choose incorrectly.

But indeed, there is a difference. With "to sing" the focus is more on the moment of you singing, whereas with "singing" the focus is more on the general concept of you singing.

For example, if I sing in a choir, and I feel good while I'm singing or after singing, and I'm thinking about those moments, then I'm somewhat more likely to say, "I like to sing in a choir."

But if I'm not thinking about particular instances of singing, but want to state that it's an activity that I feel good about doing in general, I'd be somewhat more likely to say, "I like singing in a choir".

In these examples below, I give what I believe is the somewhat more likely usage, but saying it the other way around is also correct and 100% natural for native speakers:

I like to sing when I drive long distances.

I like singing because it relaxes me.

What are you hobbies?
I like singing.

What do you do in your spare time?
I like to sing.

The two are so similar, that if someone asked you a question with one version, you could answer with the other:

Why do you like to sing?
I like singing because it relaxes me.

The difference is so subtle that I don't think I've ever seen the two differentiated in any ESL materials in my 17 years of teaching. I have no doubt Socioinguists have conducted many studies about this difference, but you'd have to search up academic papers to see what they say.

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  • 2
    thank you very much for you kind explanation~ it helped me a lot.
    – 박용현
    Apr 3, 2022 at 15:31
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I’m not entirely sure about what you mean by “nuance”. I’ll describe the major difference in meaning.

The first sentence implies that “I” is the agent of “to sing”. In the second sentence, “singing” doesn’t have an agent; perhaps the speaker enjoys his or her own singing, but perhaps he or she enjoys the singing of other people, the idea of singing, etc.

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    +1 Yes. Grammatically, in your final interpretation of 2. "singing" is strictly speaking ambiguous between a noun and a verb. In the verb interpretation it has the same meaning as 1. ("I like singing = I like to sing") .
    – BillJ
    Apr 3, 2022 at 10:07
  • It's not noun-vs-verb that's ambiguous (it's a noun); it's which singing the subject likes.
    – chepner
    Apr 3, 2022 at 15:02
  • thank you very much~
    – 박용현
    Apr 3, 2022 at 15:30
  • While it's technically ambiguous, unless the context makes it clear they're talking about other people singing (which suggests the speaker actually enjoys listening), the default interpretation is that they mean themselves.
    – Barmar
    Apr 4, 2022 at 2:26
  • @chepner I disagree. In "I like singing", "singing" may well be a verb. In fact, I'd say that verb is the more salient interpretation, in which case it would have the same structure and meaning as the OP's ex 1.
    – BillJ
    Apr 4, 2022 at 16:10

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