Exceptions to the Noun + Infinitive Rule

Have your students spent enough time studying gerunds and infinitives?

Gerunds and infinitives are many students’ worst nightmare. Certain verbs are followed by the -ing form of a verb (gerund), and others are followed by to + base verb (infinitive). Students often feel that hours of memorization are required to keep gerunds and infinitives straight.

Luckily, there are four rules that are almost always true: 1) noun + infinitive, 2) adjective + infinitive, 3) preposition + gerund, and 4) subject = gerund. (See Gerunds and Infinitives: Helpful Teaching Tips for more information and examples.)

However, almost all English grammar rules have exceptions. While the noun + infinitive rule is very useful for students, there is an important exception involving time that is common enough to warrant pointing it out to students.

The Noun + Infinitive Rule

If there is an noun or pronoun following the main verb, it should be followed by the infinitive form.

Examples:

  • I asked my friend to help me move next Saturday.
  • She wanted him to call her.
  • My coworkers need me to finish the project on time.
  • The teacher advised her students to study for the test.

The last example with the verb “advise” shows just how useful this rule is. Advise is usually followed by a gerund (Our teacher advised studying for the test), but when you add a noun/pronoun object, the noun + infinitive rule takes precedence (The teacher advised her students to study for the test).

The Exception: Spend/Waste Time + Gerund

While the noun + infinitive rule works in almost every case, there is a common exception involving time. When the phrases spend time or waste time are used, the noun “time” is NOT followed by an infinitive. A gerund always follows these phrases. Also note that the noun “time” can be replaced by an amount of time (using the nouns months, days, hours, minutes, etc.) and a gerund is still required.

Examples:

  • I spent time working on my project last night.
  • He wastes a lot of time watching TV.
  • My sister is spending five hours helping out at the auction.
  • They have wasted four days arguing about it.

But be careful! If the noun “time” is not part of the spend time/waste time phrase, the normal noun + infinitive rule applies.

  • I have time to help you today.
  • They need more time to finish the test.

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2 comments

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  1. fdfd@xxx.com'

    RoadToGrammar says:

    Oct 21, 2014 at 12:44 am

    Definitely a tricky one, but worth a few minutes explaining it to a class, because they do make mistakes with it.

    ‘spend times’ is another mistake that my students often make.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      That’s a great point. Students often say the plural by mistake, when “time” is an uncountable noun in this context.

      Reply

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