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From my understanding, 'to' is not followed by 'continuous form'. So the latter version "looking forward to hearing" looks incorrect to me.

However, when I type that in gmail, it first auto complete to "looking forward to hear from you", and then it shows suggestion to correct it to "looking forward to hearing from you"

What am I missing here?

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    The gerund-participial (ing) clause is correct
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 26 at 9:00
  • The verb has bearing on which form to use. For example, we say "hoping to see you at the party" but "looking forward to seeing you at the party". hoping {marked form of the verb} {something} and looking forward to {something} and {something} can be satisfied with the gerund-participle form.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26 at 10:23
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    You look forward to A NOUN (for example, "I'm looking forward to Christmas"), so if you're going to use a verb-based object, it has to be a gerund / participial -ing-based form. Commented Jun 26 at 10:41
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    OALD, Cambridge Dictionary etc clearly has the construction as 'look forward to', followed by a noun or an ing-form. Commented Jun 26 at 11:58

3 Answers 3

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I'm looking forward [to hearing from you].

is the correct version.

Prepositions like "to" mostly take noun phrases as object, but a gerund-participial (ing) clause is not a noun.

However, gerund-participials are more like NPs than infinitivals, which is seen in the fact that they can invert with the subject in interrogatives, and this greater likeness to NPs is reflected in their being more readily able to function as complement of a preposition.

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    Looking forward to hearing from you is correct, but the analysis is not, or at least it is unhelpful. It is better analyzed as I'm looking forward to [hearing from you]. The brackets identify the object of the preposition, which could be any sort of noun phrase. A gerundive is a noun (while a present participle is not). As such, it can be a subject or the object of a verb, etc. Seeing is believing. I like playing piano. Reading makes me tired. Etc.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 26 at 11:03
  • @phoog, I’d offer yet a third analysis: look forward to is a phrasal verb that licenses a nioun-phrase complement: I look forward to our vacation and I look forward to it. So neither forward nor to is acting as a preposition any more than the up does in After years of failing to learn to ride a unicycle, I gave up. Commented Jun 26 at 11:10
  • @PaulTanenbaum The whole expression "to look forward to sth" is considered to be an idiom in OALD; "sth" can be a NP or an -ing form. Accordingly, the parsing of "forward" and "to" as prepositions is not possible.
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 26 at 12:42
  • @phoog "Hearing from you" is a clause, not an NP, so it can't be object of "to", though it it is complement. Note that clauses are not NPs. "To hearing from you" is a preposition phrase with the prep "to" as head and the gerund-participial clause as its complement. Note that not everything that functions as complement of a prep is an NP.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 26 at 12:42
  • @PaulTanenbaum "Hearing from you" is not a noun phrase, but a gerund-participial clause functioning as complement of the preposition "to". Just because it is replaceable by an appropriate NP, doesn't mean it's NP -- it isn't. It matters not how we analyse "look forward to". The fact is "to" is a preposition with a gerund-participial clause as its complement.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 26 at 12:49
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The confusion arises because to is an infinitive marker in English. It has that function, for example, in the phrase mentioned in the comments, hoping to... (hoping to see you, hoping to hear from you, etc.).

But to in look forward to is just a garden-variety preposition, as is at in the phrase looking back at. As a preposition, it should be followed by a noun phrase:

  • I'm looking forward to his return
  • I'm looking forward to the next installment
  • I'm looking forward to your response

As you probably know, a noun phrase may be a gerundive, i.e., the nominalized -ing form of the verb, as in playing piano is relaxing, where the subject is playing piano.

  • I'm looking forward to seeing him again
  • I'm looking forward to reading the next installment
  • I'm looking forward to hearing from you
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  • "Hearing from you" is not an NP but a gerund-participial clause functioning as complement - not NP object - of "to". Note that preps take a range of complement types comparable to that of verbs, not just object NPs, but predicatives, PPs, AdvPs and clauses. We obviously don't want to call them all nouns. In your last three examples, the gerund-participials are all clauses, the last one being the OP's example.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 27 at 9:49
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A search in Google Books shows that in comparison "looking forward to hearing" is vastly more frequent; however an examination of the hits for "looking forward to hear" shows that numerous false positives make up the collections. In conclusion, it can be said that the curve for "looking forward to hear" is not representative of a usage and that it should be comparatively near zero.

looking forward to hearing

looking forward to hear

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The only idiomatic turn is really "looking forward to hearing".

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    We all know that the gerund-participial (ing) clause is correct. But you've made no attempt to say why it is.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 27 at 17:49

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