Gerunds & Infinitives – What is the difference?


Gerunds are usually nouns but they are different from other nouns because they are made from verbs.

Changing verbs into other forms: nouns or adjectives, for example, is common in many languages. Think about how your language changes verbs into other forms as you continue reading. 

♦ Gerunds are always singular: Cooking dinner takes a long time.
                                                         Cooking is hard work.
♦ The ‘ing’ form of the verb is always used: However, I love cooking

♦ Gerunds are the names of activities: eating, drinking, playing, watching, skiing, horse-riding. Can you see a pattern here? When we want a word to name the activity (noun) caused by the verb, we often use a gerund.

Cooking is LOVE you can taste.

If you can replace a gerund with a pronoun, for example, ‘it’, then the gerund must be a noun! Pronouns can only replace nouns. (pro = for) Here are the above three sentences with the gerund, cooking, replaced with ‘it‘:

It takes a long time.

It is hard work.

I love it!

♦ Gerunds are very common in everyday spoken English. They can be the Subject, the Object, or the Complement in a sentence:

Changing verbs into other forms is common in many languages. (Subject: ‘Changing verbs into other forms’ is a gerund phrase. You can replace all of it with the pronoun ‘it’: It is common in many languages.)

Skiing is a popular winter sport. (Subject)

Children seem to learn skiing easily. (Object of ‘learn’)

The most popular winter sport in many countries is skiing. (Complement of ‘is’)

In the sentence, “Anthony saw some sharks when he was snorkelling in the Philippines last year.”, “snorkelling” is a participle part of the verb “was snorkelling”. 

In the sentence, “My children love snorkelling“, “snorkelling” is a noun. It is the object of “love“. An object is a noun. 

∗  Note that in the above sentence, there is no indication that the children are actually snorkelling, unlike Anthony who was no doubt swimming very quickly after he saw the sharks. All we know is that the children love that activity. “My children love it.” The word “it” is the object of “love”. The pronoun “it” replaces “snorkelling” in the above sentence, so “snorkelling” must be a noun. It is a Gerund.

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Infinitives are the names of verbs: TO + BASE VERB. For example: to be, to have, to go, to look, to swim. When you look up a verb in a dictionary, it is the Base form that is listed first. Infinitives and Base verbs have no tense. 

It is very common to use more than one verb in a clause.  However, only one tense per clause is permitted! Again, think about your language and the rules for verbs. Infinitives have no tense, so they are used to add information without affecting the tense of the verb, without affecting ‘when’:

I want to study Architecture at University. (want = Present Simple Tense)

I wanted to study Architecture at school, but it wasn’t a school subject. (wanted = Past Simple Tense)

Photo by Alex Vasey

I have wanted to study Architecture ever since I saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa. (have wanted = Present Perfect Tense)

In the main clause of the above three sentences, the different forms of the verb ‘want’ show tense. The infinitive ‘to study’ adds meaning only.

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It is important to know when to use Gerunds after verbs and when to use Infinitives after verbs.

♦ Some verbs can be followed by a Gerund or an Infinitive:

I love going out on Saturday nights with my friends.

I love to go out on Saturday nights with my friends.


♦ Some verbs cannot be followed by an Infinitive. If you want to follow the verb with another verb, you have to use a Gerund:

I finished cleaning the house at 10pm.  I finished to clean the house at 10pm.                                               
 I enjoy going out with my friends. I enjoy to go out with my friends.

Of course, you can follow ‘finished’ and ‘enjoy’ with other word forms:

I finished my exams yesterday. (verb + noun + adverb)

I enjoy funny movies. (verb + adjective + noun)

♦ Other verbs cannot be followed by a Gerund. If you want to follow the verb with another verb, you have to use an infinitive:

Rou decided to study English in Australia.  Rou decided studying  English in Australia.

After that, she is planning to continue her studies in Taiwan. After that, she is planning continuing her studies in Taiwan.

Of course, you can follow ‘decided’ and ‘is planning’ with other word forms:

Rou decided on a holiday in Spain. (verb + preposition + noun)

After that, she is planning further study. (verb + adjective + noun)

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There is no easy rule to help you know if a verb is followed by a Gerund or an Infinitive. The way I see the difference is (usually) this:

Gerunds describe an activity (IT). It might not happen.

Infinitives describe an action (TO DO IT) which happens/happened/will happen. 

Have a look at these two sentences:

1. I love cooking.

2. I love to cook on the weekends when my parents visit.

My husband the chef. Photo by Mario 


1. I love cooking. (I love it.)

I love watching Masterchef and *cooking videos on Youtube. I have some excellent recipe books. I love food and trying new dishes. I do all the food shopping. However, I never cook because my husband is a chef! (*cooking = adjective gerund)


2. I love to cook on the weekends when my parents visit. (I love to do it.)

I do it when my parents visit. What do I do? I cook.

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Try to remember the difference between gerunds and infinitives the way you learn new vocabulary. Online exercises are a good way to practise and remember:

Click here for a website that categorizes which types of common verbs are followed by gerunds and which types of common verbs are are followed by infinitives. It is an excellent reference.
The site also lists songs which feature gerunds. However, not every word ending in ‘ing’ is a gerund! Some are participles; some are part of reduced Relative Clauses. I have focused on one of the songs, ‘Feel’ by Robbie Williams. Watch the video below and then check the lyrics. I have highlighted the gerunds in bold pink and the infinitives in bold blue.

Click here to see a list of verbs followed by Infinitives. This link will take you to verbs followed by Gerunds

• For more information and practice exercises click here.

Song: FEEL by Robbie Williams

Come and hold my hand.
I *wanna contact the living.    (*wanna contact = want to contact)
Not sure I understand
This role I’ve been given.
I sit and talk to God
And he just laughs at my plans.
My head speaks a language
I don’t understand.

I just *wanna feel     (wanna feel = want to feel)
Real love; feel the home that I live in,
‘Cause I’ve got too much life
Running through my veins,
Going to waste.
I don’t *wanna die     (*wanna die = want to die)
But I **ain’t keen on living either.     (**ain’t = am not)
Before I fall in love,
I’m preparing to leave her.

(I) Scare myself to death.
That’s why I keep on running.
Before I’ve arrived,
I can see myself coming.

I just *wanna feel    (wanna feel = want to feel)
Real love; feel the home that I live in,
‘Cause I’ve got too much life
Running through my veins,
Going to waste;
And I need to feel
Real love and the love ever after.
I cannot get enough.

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This entry was posted in Grammar, Intermediate (Level 4), Pre-Intermediate (Level 3), TOEIC, Upper Intermediate (Level 5). Bookmark the permalink.

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