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When learning grammar in school, I was taught that any verb after the word "to" should be in present tense and no participles.

i.e. To play instead of to playing, or to sleep instead of to sleeping etc.

So, which sentence is correct?

Looking forward to see you.

or

Looking forward to seeing you.

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There's two different things going on here, both of which use the word to, which is probably what's confusing you.

The rule your teacher taught you applies to infinitives, in the context of sentences where there are two verbs, like

I like to run.

The verb following to is in the present tense, as is expected. In this case, to is known as a "particle," which is basically a word that doesn't fit into nice grammatical categories, but has some meaning.

I like to running.

Is not correct.

However, what's happening here is that to is a preposition connected to the adverb forward, which is modifying looking.

You look forward to nouns. These sentences are all acceptable:

I look forward to my wedding.

I'm looking forward to the weekend.

I was looking forward to this weekend, but I got sick.

So in this case, you have to use a gerund, the noun form of a verb following forward to. In English, the gerund is identical to the present progressive, so you get sentences like

I look forward to seeing you.

I look forward to meeting you.

I'm looking forward to dogsledding this winter.

Each of these sentences are acceptable, and use a gerund (verbal noun). You can't use other forms of the verb after the preposition to, you can't say:

I'm looking forward to see you.

I'm looking forward to saw you.

  • I wonder if the person can be eliminated: "looking forward to see you", this changes the meaning? – Danielillo Oct 24 '18 at 14:31
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    @Danielillo Well, that's a different question. Yes, in English, in speech, you can drop the first word, if it's something like "I" or "do" or "are." This is called "left-edge ellipsis." However, it has nothing to do with to, and even with left-edge ellipsis, "*Looking forward to see you" is still incorrect English. – Azor Ahai Oct 24 '18 at 14:51
  • Thanks for your comment-answer. I didn't ask a question because It was something I have in my mind immediatelly after reading your answer. Next time I will try to be less "impulsive" ;-) – Danielillo Oct 24 '18 at 14:59
  • pardon me to come late with this, as I'm not sure about one sentence from the original question: Did you cover "I'm looking forward to seeing you" with the "dogsledding" sample? e.g. it'd be correct as well? – Olaf Kock Aug 9 at 10:18
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"to" belongs to two different word classes.

It can be a preposition + noun/pronoun as in "to someone/to something".

And it can be the infinitive particle as in "to be, to have, to do".

So it is no good learning "to look forward to" because the learner does not know what follows, a noun or an infinitive.

The proper way is to learn "to look forward to sth (something). Then it is clear that a noun or gerund must follow and not an infinitive.

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Here "to" is not the infinitive. Here "to" is a preposition and after a preposition either a noun comes or a pronoun, and a gerund is also a form of noun. That's why the structure of this sentence will be "I look forward to seeing you." Here "seeing" is a gerund.

Let's take another example:

I am looking forward to work.

Is this correct? Yes, it is absolutely correct. Now I'll tell you why this non-"ing" is correct. As I said that "to" is a preposition and after a preposition only a noun, pronoun or gerund comes, so "work" is a noun as well as verb.

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