So what is the difference between "I like swimming" and "I like to swim"? Do they mean the same?

  • I recall once reading in a grammar book years ago that 'I like swimming' is a liking lasting for at least some period, while 'I like to swim' is more about the current mood.
    – Michael
    Dec 13, 2022 at 17:53
  • There is a past sense where '... to swim' wouldn't fit as well. The best example I can think of is someone coming out of a pool after their first time who perhaps had held some trepidation prior and exclaiming 'I like swimming!'. In that instance 'I like to swim' while not wrong, would sound stiltedly formal imho.
    – mcalex
    Dec 14, 2022 at 4:34

4 Answers 4


They can both be used to mean that you like doing the action of swimming, but "I like swimming" can also be used to mean you enjoy other things about swimming.

For example:

What exercise do you do?

I like to swim


I like swimming

are both right. "Swimming: is used as a verb, and either the infinitive or the gerund are acceptable.


What sport shall we watch today?

I like swimming

is right but

I like to swim

is wrong. "Swimming" is being used as a noun, and the infinitive of the related verb is not an acceptable substitute.

  • 3
    This answer would be even better if it explicitly discussed the differences between the words/phrases 'swimming' and 'to swim' and how they then relate to the subject of the sentences: 'I'.
    – Chemus
    Dec 13, 2022 at 18:43
  • 3
    Essentially this answer could be summarised by saying they are the same when being used as a verb (swimming, the action), but different when being used as a noun (swimming, the sport)
    – Darren H
    Dec 14, 2022 at 9:42

Virtually no difference, in this case.

Perhaps if you mean "the hobby or sport of swimming" then "I like swimming" and if you mean the "action and experience of moving through water" then "I like to swim."

But there is functionally almost no difference in meaning. But note that with other verbs you may have to use one form or the other. E.g. "I enjoy swimming" is correct but *"I enjoy to swim." is a mistake.


Most linguists think there is no practical, semantic difference.

Some say there is a minor difference.

Here's what I think based on a French linguist's idea:

"I like swimming." implies the notion of swimming.

"I like to swim." implies something slightly more connected to the pronoun I.

Be that as it may, be aware that other verbs of emotion such as dislike, hate/love work the same way work the same way.

  • 3
    I agree, most of the time I wouldn't think there was any difference between them. If I actually think about it more though, "I like to swim" sounds like they're more likely to actually do it often, whereas "I like swimming" sounds a little more like they like it when they do it but they're not as likely to do it.
    – Klors
    Dec 13, 2022 at 21:15
  • 7
    "i like swimming" can totally mean "I like to watch other people swim", "I am happy that swimming exists and is something people can do", or "I like the thought/concept/idea of swimming", but "I like to swim" cannot mean any of those. Are you sure most linguists think there's no semantic difference? Dec 14, 2022 at 1:23

To build on DJClayworth's answer, "swimming" is somewhat unique because it's an activity that can be enjoyed without participation.

If you say, "I like to swim," you are saying that you personally enjoy the act of swimming. The sentence "I like swimming" can mean the same thing, but not always. This is because of a wider cultural context in which "swimming" can refer to a sport that sedentary observers can watch and enjoy, even if they don't personally enjoy being in the water.

For activities that don't have this same cultural context, the sentences would be understood to mean the same thing. For example:

I like to drive


I like driving

These sentences mean the same thing. The word "driving" does not refer to any sport or activity that observers watch and enjoy (for car races, you would use "racing"). So the sentence "I like driving" is taken to mean that you enjoy participating in the activity yourself.

Edit: Another example similar to "driving" is "talking." I'm not aware of any sport or similar activity referred to as "talking." If you say "I like talking," it will be understood almost universally to mean that you personally enjoy the act of saying things.

  • 2
    It could be noted that "I like driving" could be used to describe enjoying going for a drive as a passenger, whereas I think "I like to drive" would be less likely to be used in that context, but not incorrect
    – Klors
    Dec 13, 2022 at 21:35
  • 2
    Not that unique. Rowing, fencing, diving, weightlifting, sailing, accounting all spring to mind. Dec 13, 2022 at 21:48
  • 3
    "How did the speech go?"; "Well, people are certainly talking", "I like talking. Much better than rioting." Dec 14, 2022 at 17:50

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