• Making the choice between infinitives and gerunds – II

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    Jose A. Carillo

    Jose A. Carillo

    Let’s continue last week’s discussion on the choice between infinitives and gerunds and between full infinitives and bare infinitives in constructing sentences.

    We left off with the finding that the following sentence that uses infinitive phrases as direct object of the operative verb “decided” is grammatically airtight: “We decided to stay home and watch the game on television rather than to drive to New York in the snow.” However, when the infinitive phrases are replaced by their gerund phrase equivalents, the sentence no longer reads and sounds right: “We decided staying home and watching the game on television rather than driving to New York in the snow.”

    The problem is that the verb “decide” won’t accept the gerund phrases as direct objects in that sentence. In English, it is the operative verb that determines whether an infinitive or gerund can serve as subject, object, or complement, and it does so following these four ground rules:

    1. Use the infinitive as subject when denoting potential, the gerund when denoting actuality or fact. Potential: “To win will be great.” (“Winning will be great” works just as well, for “win” is one of those verbs that can take either the gerund or infinitive form to denote potential.) Actuality or fact: “Winning made him ecstatic.” (The infinitive doesn’t work: “To win made him ecstatic.”)

    2. Use the infinitive as complement or object when denoting future ideas and plans, the gerund when denoting acts done or ended. Infinitive for future ideas and plans: “Her ambition is to teach.” (But not, “Her ambition is teaching.”) Gerund for acts done or ended: “She picked teaching.” (But not, “She picked to teach.”)

    3. Use the infinitive as complement for single or repeated action, the gerund for ongoing action. Single action: “I came here to study.” (But not, “I came here studying.”). Repeated action: “She goes there to rest.” (But not, “She goes there resting.”). Ongoing action: “He does selling on the side.” (But not, “He does to sell on the side.”).

    4. Use the infinitive as object for a request, instruction, or causation; the gerund for attitude and unplanned action. Request: “He asked me to rehearse.” (But not, “He asked me rehearsing.”). Instruction: “She told me to wait.” (But not, “She told me waiting.”). Causation: “They forced him to abdicate.” (But not, “They forced him abdicating.”). Attitude: “He thinks sailing is risky.” (But not, “He thinks to sail is risky.”) Unplanned action: “He found dancing to his liking.” (But not, “He found to dance to his liking.”).

    These ground rules provide us with a clearer conceptual framework for using infinitives or gerunds, but we must firmly keep in mind that the primary basis for the choice is the operative verb of the sentence. We have to get used to the fact that some operative verbs can take infinitives, others can take gerunds, and the rest can take both. Making the correct choice won’t be easy, but ultimately, it’s the one that makes the sentence read logically and sound right.

    Now let’s go back to Sentence 2 as presented by Farhad H.: “Rather than running away from a difficult situation, they see it as challenging.” He asked: Shouldn’t that sentence use the bare infinitive phrase “run away” instead?

    That sentence obviously doesn’t read logically or sound right with the gerund phrase “running away,” but neither does it do so with the full infinitive phrase “to run away”: “Rather than to run away from a difficult situation, they see it as challenging.” However, it makes sense and reads perfectly well with the bare infinitive phrase “run away”: “Rather than run away from a difficult situation, they see it as challenging.” Why is that?

    Next week, in the third and final part of this discussion, we’ll take up the rules for choosing between full infinitives and bare infinitives.

    Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

    j8carillo@yahoo.com

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