Gerunds and Infinitives in English: What They Are and How to Use Them

Infinitives and gerunds are very common in the English language.

An infinitive is a verb that has “to” at the beginning, like “to go.” A gerund has “-ing” at the end, like “going.” 

But how do you know when to use an infinitive and when to use a gerund?

The five simple rules below are sure to help!

What Is an Infinitive? 

An infinitive is the verb form that has “to” at the beginning. It is the simplest verb form that you have to modify to fit into sentences. For example, “to do,” “to sleep,” “to love” and “to create.” 

The sentence “She sleeps” no longer contains the infinitive of the verb “to sleep.” Instead, it has been conjugated into the simple present third person form of the verb “to sleep”: sleeps.

What Is a Gerund?

Gerunds are formed by adding “-ing” to the verb. For example, “sleeping,” “drawing” and “swimming.”

These are not the “-ing” verb forms that you see in the present or past continuous tense. They look the same, but gerunds are actually verb forms that act as nouns.

Let’s take the infinitive of the verb “to sleep” and use it in two different sentences. This is the present continuous. “Sleeping” here is part of the verb. It is not a gerund.

am sleeping.

Here’s the second sentence. This is present simple, but it contains a gerund. “Sleeping” is the direct object of this sentence.

I don’t like sleeping.

Now that you know the difference between infinitives and gerunds, let’s introduce the rules that will help you use both correctly.

5 Simple Rules to Master the Use of Gerunds and Infinitives

1. Gerunds can be used as a subject of a sentence.

Take a look at some examples.

Walking is good for your health.

Making friends has become more difficult since I moved to a new city.

Becoming a millionaire is a dream of many young people today.

Here, the gerunds are part of the sentence subjects (“walking,” “making friends,” “becoming a millionaire”). All three sentences sound like normal, everyday English.

Now read these two sentences, which are quotes from William Shakespeare.

To be or not to be—that is the question.”

To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.”

In those two quotes, the infinitives “to be” and “to mourn” are used as the sentence subjects. However, the sentences are more complex and literary. 

So, it is possible to use both infinitives and gerunds as subjects, but gerunds are much more commonly used as subjects. Just pay attention to how the choice reflects the tone and meaning of your sentences.

2. Both gerunds and infinitives can be used as objects of a sentence.

Have a look at these two sentences.

I enjoy drawing.

Yesterday, I decided to draw.

Both sentences are correct, but one has an infinitive as the object and the other has a gerund as the object.

What is the difference?

It’s the verbs that come before the object! Some verbs require a gerund and some will require an infinitive. In the above examples, we can see that the formula is “enjoy” + [gerund] and “decide” + [infinitive].

With practice, you will be able to remember which one is which.

Here are a few examples of verbs that need to be followed by an infinitive.

Verb Examples of Verb + Infinitive
agree agreed to go to a party with my friend.
decide The president decided not to participate in the discussions.
deserve Everyone deserves to be respected.
expect expect to know my exam grade by tomorrow.
hope We were hoping to avoid traffic by leaving early.
learn He learned not to trust anyone.
need She needs to learn how to cook.
offer offered to help my brother with homework.
plan We are planning to watch a movie tonight.
promise My friend promised to find the time to help me move.
seem We seem to be lost.
wait I cannot wait to see my family.
want I don’t want to go to bed yet.

And here are a few examples of verbs that need to be followed by a gerund.

Verb Examples of Verb + Gerund
admit They admitted changing the schedule.
advise advise proceeding (moving forward) with caution.
avoid She avoided looking me in the eye.
consider considered staying silent, but I had to tell her.
deny denied knowing about his secret.
involve The course involved writing three tests.
mention She mentioned seeing my brother at a baseball game.
recommend recommend practicing gerunds and infinitives.
risk Don’t risk losing your job!
suggest suggest reading more English short stories.

3. Infinitives should be used after many adjectives.

Here are three sample sentences that will help to illustrate this rule.

It is not easy to graduate from university.

It is necessary to speak English to work in a hotel.

It is wonderful to have close friends.

When you describe something with an adjective (underlined in the examples above), an infinitive should follow (in bold). Using gerunds here would be incorrect.

But remember! If you want to make that object into a subject (see Rule 1), a gerund should be used, like in these sentences here.

Graduating from university is not easy.

Speaking English is necessary to work in a hotel.

Having close friends is wonderful.

How else do you know if an adjective should be followed by an infinitive? The construct “too + [adjective]” is another way to tell!

Have a look at these sentences. 

This dress is too big to wear.

This car is too expensive to buy.

And the same is true about “[adjective] + enough.”

My child is not tall enough to ride this rollercoaster.

The course was detailed enough to widen his knowledge base.

This rule is useful enough to understand the usage of infinitives!

4. Only infinitives are used after certain verbs followed by nouns or pronouns referring to a person.

Let’s have a look at an example sentence.

We asked her not to go.

In this sentence, “we” is the subject, “asked” is the verb and “her” is the objective form of the pronoun “she.” You must use an infinitive (“to go”), never a gerund, after certain verbs followed by nouns or pronouns referring to people.

To remember this rule, you will have to study verbs that take an object and an infinitive in this context.

Start with these examples. The objects (nouns and pronouns) are underlined. Notice how the underlined objects are all followed by infinitives.

Verb Examples of Verb + Noun/Pronoun + Infinitive
ask Can I ask you to help me with something?
expect I never expected him to become famous.
hire Did the company hire you just to sit in your office?
invite I invited a friend to attend the ceremony.
order She ordered the child to stay at home.
remind Please remind me to wash the dishes.
require The test required him to concentrate fully.
teach That will teach you to follow the rules!
tell Who told you to come here?
urge They urged me to continue my research.
warn I am warning you not to do this!

5. Only gerunds are used after prepositions (with one exception).

Consider this sentence.

I talked him out of taking that job.

Here, the gerund “taking” follows the preposition “of.”

Prepositions can follow any word, be it a noun, a pronoun, a verb or an adjective. In the examples below, the prepositions are underlined, followed by the gerunds in bold.

A preposition that follows a noun:

Novels about growing up are popular among teenagers.

I have an interest in becoming a painter. 

A preposition that follows a pronoun:

I forgive you for not telling the truth.

A preposition that follows a verb:

She is thinking about trying martial arts. 

He looks forward to meeting his cousins.

A preposition that follows an adjective:

I am wary of going alone.

My mom is scared of flying.

There is one exception, which is the word “but.” Thankfully, it should be easy to remember!

“But” is a short word that connects two clauses of a sentence together. It is called a conjunction. Sometimes, “but” can also play a role of a preposition. When “but” is used as a preposition, it is the same in meaning as “except.”

If “but” or “except” are used like this, they need to be followed by an infinitive.

I had no choice but to follow her.
(I had to follow her.)

Mary made no stops on the way except to get gas.
(Mary only stopped to get gas.)

There is nothing left for me to do but to collect my money and go.
(I only have to collect my money and go.)

You may not see “but” and “except” used this way often. Just follow the rule of gerunds after prepositions, and you will get it right most of the time!


While the rules above will help you understand how infinitives and gerunds should be used, you should make sure to practice them so you can use them in real life.

One easy way to do this is by learning with FluentU videos, which include movie trailers, music videos, news and other types of fun real-world videos and authentic content.

FluentU videos come with interactive subtitles that tell you the definition of any word, and also show you how that word can be used in a sentence.

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