My column last week dealt with the two forms the infinitive takes in actual usage, namely as full or to-infinitive or as base or zero infinitive. As explained in detail in that column, the choice between these two forms depends on the particular verb, the verb auxiliary, the syntax pattern, and the expression immediately preceding or following the infinitive form. Indeed, to become truly fluent in English, the serious learner needs to study very closely and memorize those subtle but actually stringent rules for the choice. (Read those rules again by clicking this link to that column.)

With those rules now clear in mind, we can confidently tackle our next grammar decision: When do we use an infinitive or gerund? To state it as simply as we can make it, which is better or more appropriate to say —"I'm looking forward to meet my old buddy again" (the infinitive form) or "I'm looking forward to meeting my old buddy again" (the gerund form)?

Some grammarians will probably still argue this to death, but my position on the matter is this: the sentence constructions "I'm looking forward to meet my old buddy again" and "I'm looking forward to meeting my old buddy again" are both grammatically airtight and have the same sense. The choice between using the infinitive phrase or the gerund phrase is simply a matter of personal choice in that particular case.

We must keep in mind though that as a rule, infinitives and gerunds are not freely interchangeable and mutually equivalent. Some operative verbs can take either a gerund or infinitive as direct object, but other verbs balk and won't ever take an infinitive as direct object, meaning to say that the construction wouldn't read or sound right.

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In sentences with "continue" as operative verb, for instance, the verb can take either a gerund phrase or infinitive phrase as direct object (or as object of the preposition). Consider this sentence: "They continued paying for her tuition without letup." The gerund phrase "paying for her tuition without letup" works without any hitch as direct object of the verb "continued," but so does its infinitive phrase equivalent: "They continued to pay for her tuition without letup."

Like "continue," these operative verbs can also take either a gerund phrase or infinitive phrase as direct object: "attempt," "begin," "start," "leave," "stop," "continue," "love," "like," "dislike," "hate," "remember," "forget," "neglect," "regret," "intend," "plan," "permit," "plan," "prefer," "propose," "try," and "mean." In contrast, however, other operative verbs can only take a gerund or gerund phrase — never an infinitive or infinitive phrase—as direct object. Among them are "admit," "advise," "appreciate," "anticipate," "avoid," "consider," and "delay."

For example, "anticipate" works perfectly with the gerund phrase "receiving the next shipment in a week" as direct object in "We anticipate receiving the next shipment in a week." However, the construction makes an epic fail — it just doesn't sound right to the ears—when the equivalent infinitive phrase is used: "We anticipate to receive the next shipment in a week."

When used as operative verb, "consider" likewise encounters the same problem. In the sentence "They considered taking a short-cut to their destination," the verb works perfectly with the gerund phrase "taking a short-cut to their destination" as direct object but likewise makes an epic fail when the equivalent infinitive phrase is used: "They considered to take a short-cut to their destination."

So, the whole thing boils down to this big question: Is there a formula for finding out in advance whether an infinitive phrase or gerund phrase will function properly as direct object of a particular operative verb? Other than a good working knowledge of how gerunds and infinitives work in sentences, no such ground rule exists. We just have to play it by ear when we construct sentences using specific operative verbs.

Next week May 12, 2022: When it becomes a must to split infinitives

Visit Jose Carillo's English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter and email me at [email protected]