5 Verbs with Meaning Changes: Gerunds and Infinitives – Advanced

Have you ever tried to study (but couldn’t) or tried studying (started, then stopped) these tricky verbs?

In last week’s blog post, we saw a method for teaching gerunds and infinitives to students in a clear, organized way. We learned that, following a main verb, there is a lot of memorization and practice required on the students’ part in order to keep which verbs take gerunds and which take infinitives straight. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, there are certain verbs in English that change their meaning according to the gerund or infinitive that follows! These verbs are best left for high-intermediate or advanced learners to muddle through, but when they’re ready, here is a handy list of some of the most common verbs of this type.

1. Try

Try + Gerund means that you started doing something, then stopped for some reason (usually because it was too difficult).

  • She tried learning French, but she gave up after a few months. (She found French too difficult.)

Try + Infinitive means that you attempted something but couldn’t do it for some reason.

  • She tried to get into the club, but she got ID’d. (She attempted to enter the club even though she was underage, but she didn’t get in.)

Be careful! Sometimes you can hear “try” with both a gerund and an infinitive where the meaning is essentially the same. The reason this is possible is because the focus is slightly different. For example:

  • I tried calling you last night. (I attempted to call you once [or many times], but I eventually gave up.)
  • I tried to call you last night. (You never picked up the phone, so I couldn’t talk to you.)

2. Stop

Stop + Gerund means you quit doing something.

  • He stopped smoking last week. (He quit smoking.)

Stop + Infinitive means you were doing something and then took a break, or stopped on your way somewhere.

  • Even though he was behind in his work, he stopped to smoke a cigarette. (He stopped working to have a smoke break.)
  • I stopped to buy milk on my way home. (I went to the store before going home.)

3. Forget

Forget + Gerund means that you have already done something, but can’t remember doing it.

  • She didn’t recognize him at all. She forgot meeting him last summer. (She forgot that she had met him before.)

Forget + Infinitive means that you had the intention of doing something, but didn’t remember to do it.

  • She forgot to meet her client for lunch, so she got an angry phone call from him later. (She had plans to meet her client, but she didn’t remember to do it.)

4. Remember

Remember + Gerund means that you did something in the past, and you can remember doing it. (This is usually used when you’re surprised that you that recall that far back. It’s also used when you’re reminiscing with friends.)

  • I remember falling down the stairs when I was four years old.

Remember + Infinitive means that you had the intention of doing something, and you remembered to do it.

  • My husband was happy that I remembered to pay the bills on time last month.

5. Regret

Regret + Gerund means that you did something that you wish you hadn’t.

  • I regretted telling him my secret because he told everyone at my school. (I wish I hadn’t told him my secret.)

Regret + Infinitive means that you’re sorry (usually used in formal cases only).

  • We regret to tell you that your application was not accepted. (We’re sorry to have to tell you this.)

Don’t stop to worry about these difficult verbs, just stop worrying! :)

Tanya

19 comments

Leave a Comment ↓

  1. grewal.angad@yahoo.in'

    Angad M.S says:

    Dec 07, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Hi tanya,
    Can you tell me some confusing gerunds for a class activity?

    Reply

  2. abolfazl.esmaeilnejad@yahoo.com'

    abolfazl says:

    May 03, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Thank you very much for your helpful content.
    I am from Iran, and this contents is very good and I’m ready for the exam in English class today.

    Reply

  3. floress8555@hotmail.com'

    Nayeli says:

    Feb 15, 2017 at 6:08 am

    Wow! I needed the exact verbs you explained! (That plus go on hehe).
    Thank you so much for sharing, you are very kind to take your time and explain this through the easiest way possible.
    Best regards,
    Nayeli.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 17, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Oh, go on! ;)

      Thanks for your comment! Here’s the meaning differences for go on in case anyone else is wondering:

      – go on + gerund / Even though the power went out, she went on studying. / = carry on, continue doing something

      – go on + infinitive / After graduating from university, he went on to become a doctor. / = the next step, what happened after something related

      Reply

  4. kim.hardiman@ucf.edu'

    Kim Hardiman says:

    Jun 21, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    Hi Tanya,
    I have a question about the verb BEGIN with gerunds and infinitives. We can use the past verb tense, “it began to rain” or “it began raining.” But if we put BEGIN in the present perfect tense with a gerund, it sounds strange. “It has begun raining.” If we add an infinitive, it sounds good. “It has begun to rain.” Can you explain why we can or can’t add a gerund when BEGIN is in the present perfect verb tense with RAINING? Does RAINING change the meaning? My grammar teacher gave me 2 examples that have the same meaning when he changed RAINING to a different gerund with BEGIN in the present perfect verb tense.

    a. I have begun exercising in the mornings. I have begun to exercise in the morning.
    b. Susan has begun dating John. Susan has begun to date John.

    I look forward to your answer!
    Thank you,
    Kim

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 22, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      Hi Kim,

      Great question! To me, there is no difference in meaning between “begin” with a gerund or an infinitive. I looked into some reference books, and most seem to agree. Some got into a little more detail, like this one (http://www.englishpage.com/gerunds/gerund_or_infinitive_different_list.htm) that stated that “begin” in a non-continuous tense can take either a gerund or an infinitive (She began singing/She began to sing) but can only take a gerund in a continuous tense (She is beginning to sing). I agree with that. This doesn’t answer your question about the present perfect, though.

      I also agree that “It has begun to rain” sounds a bit better than “It has begun raining,” though both are technically correct. I don’t think there’s any reason other than sometimes a gerund or infinitive with a certain verb is slightly more common. Think of how gerunds are much more common as the subject of a sentence, even though infinitives are technically correct (“Skiing is fun” is much more natural/common than “To ski is fun”). While the gerund = subject is a pretty common rule, I don’t have a rule for the verbs start/begin/continue, so just trust your ear or always use “start” instead of “begin” (see next paragraph).

      To me, using “begin” with the present perfect and a gerund or infinitive sounds a bit strange, and I would normally use “start” instead. (It has started to rain/It has started raining = both sound great. Same with “Susan has started dating John/Susan has started to date John.”)

      Hope that helps!
      Tanya

      Reply

      • kim.hardiman@ucf.edu'

        Kim Hardiman says:

        Jun 23, 2016 at 4:28 pm

        Hi Tanya,
        Thanks for all your examples and suggestions! “Start” sounds much better than “begin” with the present perfect and a gerund or infinitive. I haven’t even thought about that, but I have used that phrase several times. It has started to rain and it has started raining! I think that linguists can explain the etymology behind “begin” versus “start” with collocations, connotations, and variations of grammatical discourse. I will show your response to my grammar teacher to see what he thinks. Thanks again for your help!

        Kim

        Reply

  5. almarstyles12@hotmail.com'

    almar says:

    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:47 am

    i was just wondering if you’d explain more about the verb “mean” and what does the verb mean if followed by either infinitive or gerund. thank you!

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 25, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      Hi Almar,

      I answered a question about “mean” below (Melany’s question from Aug 21, 2015), but I’ll paste the answer here again for your convenience.

      When the verb “mean” takes an infinitive verb, the meaning is “intend.” Examples:
      “I mean to finish this report by 5:00 pm.”
      “She means to apply to Harvard.”

      It is possible to use “mean” with a gerund if you’re explaining what you mean to someone.
      Examples:
      “When you said winter sports, did you mean skiing or snowboarding?”
      “I meant skiing.”

      Reply

  6. maedeh.soleimani789@yahoo.com'

    maedeh says:

    Sep 01, 2015 at 5:55 am

    what about verb (begin) (dread) (forget)

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 01, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Maedeh,

      The verb “forget” has two different meanings—they are mentioned above in point #3. “Begin” and “dread” both have the same meaning when followed by a gerund or an infinitive. We can say “She began to study” or “She began studying.” We can also say “She dreads telling her parents” or “She dreads to think what her parents will say.” Note that “dread + infinitive” is only common with the verb “think”.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply

  7. melanija-oh@hotmail.com'

    Melany says:

    Aug 20, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    what about the verb ‘mean’ ?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Melany,

      Good question. When the verb “mean” takes an infinitive verb, the meaning is “intend.” Examples:
      “I mean to finish this report by 5:00 pm.”
      “She means to apply to Harvard.”

      It is possible to use “mean” with a gerund if you’re explaining what you mean to someone.
      Examples:
      “When you said winter sports, did you mean skiing or snowboarding?”
      “I meant skiing.”

      Reply

  8. iranma4@gmail.com'

    Mojtaba (arjomandi) says:

    Feb 21, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    MY kind professor is it correct that I say,” Jane quit working at David’s. = Jane isn’t working there anymore. = now & in the future she doesn’t work there.(from many years ago to the end of future.)
    Jane quit working at David’s.=She quit another job in order to work at David’s. = She would like to work in it & a few days later she will probably work in it.”
    If may explain more.
    I kiss your hands,
    Mojtaba.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 21, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      Hi Mojtaba,

      Your first example is correct. “Jane quit working at David’s” means that David’s is a company, and Jane used to work there but now she doesn’t. Be careful, though, because “quit” doesn’t guarantee anything about the future. Jane doesn’t work there now, but she might start working there again next week if they offer her more money! ;)

      Your second example isn’t correct…we can’t use “quit” and “at” in this way. To get the meaning you want (that Jane quit another job in order to work at David’s), you would need to explain it more.
      Some examples:
      “Jane quit working at Starbucks in order to take a job at David’s.”
      “Jane quit working at Starbucks because she got a job at David’s.”

      Hope this helps!

      Reply

  9. kajarobi93@gmail.com'

    Kajanthan says:

    Dec 30, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Thank you very much for sharing, and I always confuse with gerunds and infinitive my question is ‘Is there any verb lists Or rules to use gerunds or infinitive as subject?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Hi Kajanthan,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree, gerunds and infinitives can be confusing! For the subject position, both a gerund and an infinitive are possible with any main verb. But remember that it is always best to use a gerund in the subject position because an infinitive as a subject is very formal and not common. (A famous example of an infinitive as a subject is this Shakespeare quote: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” The English used in Shakespeare’s plays is old, formal English—not common today.)

      Did you see my other blog post on Gerunds and Infinitives? Find it here: http://www.esl-library.com/blog/2013/02/21/gerunds-and-infinitives-helpful-teaching-tips/

      We are currently developing a resource section for ESL-Library, and we will definitely include a list of common verbs that are followed by gerunds and infinitives. Keep checking back! :)

      Reply

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