Published 12th February 2018

Do you know the difference between a gerund and an infinitive? Do you even know what a gerund or an infinitive is?

If you do, give yourself a pat on the back but continue reading just to refresh your memory!

If not, have no fear, because in this post we’ll look at what exactly gerunds and infinitives are and how we use them in English so you can be confident when teaching this language point to your students.

Have a look at this paragraph:

Pedro wanted to learn English to be able to chat to his English friends online. Communicating in English was important to him but he found it difficult to speak English. His friend recommended going to lessons so he decided to go to a language school in Madrid. Pedro enjoyed speaking English but didn’t like doing grammar exercises so he joined a conversation class. He practiced speaking English every day and soon he was very good at speaking English.

In this paragraph you will have noticed there are examples of the verb which use to – these are infinitives – and verbs which end in ing – these are gerunds.

There are a few rules we can use to determine if we should use the infinitive or the gerund in a sentence.

Gerunds can be the subject of a sentence

Communicating in English was important to him.

Here we want to use the verb communicate as the subject of the sentence. We cannot say Communicate in English was important or To communicate in English was important. Instead we must use the gerund.

Infinitives are used after adjectives

…he found it difficult to speak English

Here the adjective is difficult so we use the infinitive to speak.

Gerunds are used after prepositions

…soon he was very good at speaking English.

After the preposition at we use the gerund speaking.

Infinitives are used for purpose

Pedro wanted to learn English to be able to chat to his English friends online

Here the second infinitive to be able to is used because it answers the question Why?

After certain verbs we use…either the gerund or the infinitive

Pedro wanted to learn English

so he decided to go

Pedro enjoyed speaking English

His friend recommended going to

Ok, so this is a confusing one. When we use two verbs together, the first verb can dictate if the second verb will be in its infinitive or gerund form. Which one it is, depends on the verb. Unfortunately there are no rules to learn which verbs use the infinitive and which use the gerund; these need to be learnt by our learners. In these examples, the verbs which take the infinitive are: want, decide; and the verbs which take the gerund are: enjoy, recommend.

Gerunds and infinitives can be a bit confusing for your English language learners, but now that you know exactly what they are and how we use them you should feel very comfortable teaching them in your EFL class.