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Top 10 Mistakes with Gerunds and Infinitives (Includes Practice Questions and Audio Reading)

Updated: Aug 9, 2023



Recommended level: Intermediate


Grammar note: For a quick explanation of gerunds and infinitives, read the top of this post. Also, depending on the grammar book you read, infinitives (to see, to make, to have, etc.) are either called infinitives or "to"-infinitives. For the purpose of this article, and for the sake of visual simplicity, I will refer to them as infinitives. Finally, I will refer to simple verbs (play, do, go, etc.) as bare infinitives.


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Learning when to use (and not use) gerunds and infinitives takes time, repeated exposure, and practice. While there are some rules that can help us, such as knowing that only gerunds can come after a preposition, there are cases where we just have to internalize the information over time. This is especially true when we try to learn which verbs are followed by gerunds and which verbs are followed by infinitives.


This article identifies the 10 most frequent mistakes that English learners make with gerunds and infinitives. By identifying our grammatical mistakes, we can start fixing them. Let's start that process now.


Here are the top 10 mistakes that English learners make with gerunds and infinitives.


1. He needs buy a ticket. --> He needs to buy a ticket.

This mistake occurs because it is easy to think that the verb "need" is a modal verb like "must" and "should," which are followed by bare infinitives. This is not the case, however. "Need" is a verb just like "start," "admit," "consider," or "hope." In the case of "need," it must be followed by an infinitive.


More examples:

"We need to leave."


"You will need to have your ticket ready."


"I need to go home."


Finish the sentence: "I need to..."



2. I want call them today. --> I want to call them today.

This mistake is usually made by beginners who are just starting to learn about gerunds and infinitives. In short, you usually can't smash two verbs together in English. For instance, you can't say "He went play volleyball with his friends." The correct form is "He went to play volleyball with his friends."


If you want to follow a verb with another action or activity, it must typically be followed by a gerund or infinitive. In the case of "want," it is always followed by an infinitive. To help you remember this, you can group some "verbs of desire" (specifically, "want," "need," "wish," and "hope"), and know that they are all typically followed by infinitives.


More examples:

"Diana has wanted to work here for a long time."


"Before I moved here, I wanted to live in Turkey."


"Do you want to go to the store with me?"


Finish the sentence: "I've always wanted to..."



3. She likes play badminton. --> She likes to play badminton. / She likes playing badminton.

This is similar to number 1 and number 2, but the verb "like" is so commonly used in English, that this mistake needs to be fixed as soon as possible. The good news? "Like" can be followed by a gerund or an infinitive without a significant difference in meaning. If you would like to know the difference, gerunds are typically used when we refer to hobbies or activities we do regularly when we use them with "like," while infinitives are used to refer to the action itself. The verbs "like," "love," and "hate" all fit into this category of verbs. For example, "I love reading" and "I love to read" both mean you like books, but "I love reading" has a stronger sense of the activity of reading versus the physical action of reading. It's a subtle difference, but it's there.


Honestly? Don't worry about it too much. To begin, it's enough to know that "like," "love," and "hate" can be followed by a gerund or an infinitive, but not a bare infinitive.


More examples:

"I like to call my mom on weekends." / "I like calling my mom on weekends."


"She likes dancing." / "She likes to dance."


"I don't like to run." (Reminder of the subtle difference: I don't enjoy the physical act.) / "I don't like running." (I don't enjoy the activity.)


Finish the sentence: "I really like..."



4. My mom stopped/quit to smoke. --> My mom stopped/quit smoking.

If you want to say that someone did something before but they don't do it now, you can use the verb "stop" or "quit" followed by a gerund. This one is a little tricky, however, because you can follow "stop" and "quit" with an infinitive as well, but the meaning is different. Specifically, if you say "My mom stopped to smoke," you mean that your mom interrupted another activity in order to light a cigarette and start smoking. This is probably not the meaning you intended, so be careful when you use "stop" and "quit." Use a gerund to mean that a person does not do an activity anymore.


More examples:

"I stopped going to bed late." / "I quit going to bed late."


"You should stop drinking so much alcohol." / "You should quit drinking so much alcohol."


"You're not going to stop learning, are you?" / "You're not going to quit learning, are you?"


Finish the sentence: "I should probably stop..."



5. I'm looking forward to hear from you. --> I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

This one is hard to accept for some English learners, and it is a very understandable mistake. Indeed, many learners see "to" and automatically think it needs a bare infinitive. However, there are set phrases that end with "to," such as "committed to," "adapt to," and "look forward to." In these cases, "to" is a preposition (technically, it's called a particle in the case of "look forward to," but the gerund rule is the same), and prepositions can only be followed by gerunds.


Another way to think of this is that the "to" in "look forward to" is part of a set phrase, just as the "to" in the adjective and preposition combination "committed to" is a set phrase. For example, "I am committed to improving the lives of my students." In the case of "look forward to," you must think of it as a complete phrase.


So, what's the meaning of "look forward to"? It's an idiomatic phrasal verb which means to anticipate or to be excited about something in the future. It's commonly used at the end of professional emails, as in the example at the top of this section, but it can be used in other contexts as well. For instance, you can look forward to your birthday, to the weekend, or to doing something with your friends. Just remember that if you want to follow "look forward to" with an activity that has a verbal component, you must use a gerund.


More examples:

"I was looking forward to seeing you. Why didn't you come to Elena's birthday?"


"He's really looking forward to working with you."


"I look forward to reviewing your progress."


Finish the sentence: "I'm looking forward to..."



6. We finished to eat. --> We finished eating.

This is similar to the case of "stop" and "quit," but it happens at a slightly higher frequency. In a nutshell, if you want to say that you finished an activity, you must follow "finish" with a gerund. Yes, you can form a sentence like "We finished early to beat the traffic," which means "We finished our work early so that we could beat the traffic" or "...in order to beat the traffic," but the other usage is more common and is typically what learners intend to say.


More examples:

"I need to finish working on this."


"We have finished discussing the project."


"They won't finish editing the website until Friday."


Finish the sentence: "I still need to finish..."



7. Walk every day is good for you. --> Walking every day is good for you.

If you want to use an activity as the subject of a sentence, use a gerund. While it is technically possible to also use an infinitive, it is not common except in slightly more formal cases, such as explaining the meaning of a verb or act (example: "To make someone do something means to force them to do it"), or when the infinitive is a short form of "in order to." For example, "To cook the meat properly, you need to leave it in the oven for at least 40 minutes." However, if the focus of your sentence is an activity, you should use a gerund in the vast majority of situations.


More examples:

"Sitting all day is bad for your health."


"Learning a second language can improve your cognitive function."


"Being your boss was easy because you were a great employee."


Finish the sentence: "Practicing English regularly will help me..."



8. They went downtown for watch a movie. --> They went downtown to watch a movie.

Never follow a preposition with a bare infinitive. In this case, we are interested in something called infinitives of purpose. When you try to explain why you do or why you did something with an action, you need to use an infinitive, which uses "to," not "for." Are there set phrases which use "for"? Yes, but those are followed with a gerund. For example, "He's famous for painting the Sistene Chapel," or "He apologized for lying to her." In cases where you want to provide a reason or an explanation for something, it's better to use an infinitive. Let's look at some examples.


More examples:

"I joined a gym to improve my cardio."


"I want to learn English to get a better job."


"We're driving to Nova Scotia to visit my cousin."


Finish the sentence: "He moved to Singapore to..."



9. He made me to do it. / He let me to do it. / He had me to do it. --> He made me do it. / He let me do it. / He had me do it.

The constructions above use causative verb constructions with "make," "let," and "have." When you use these verbs in causative verb constructions, they are followed by an object and a bare infinitive. To make someone do something means to force them or cause them to do something; to let someone do something means to allow or to give someone permission to do something; and to have someone do something means to instruct them or cause them to do something. Check out my lesson on causative verbs to learn more about these constructions, or just read these examples for now.


More examples:

"I can't believe she made you pay for everything."


"Did your mom let you have a cellphone when you were 13?"


"The teacher had us read quietly for 30 minutes."


Finish the sentence: "When I was a kid, my parents/mom/dad/uncle always made me..."



10. I'm interested in subscribe to your channel. --> I'm interested in subscribing to your channel.

This is similar to number 5. However, while that one is a very specific example related to a very specific phrase that English learners have trouble with, this is a broader mistake which relates to gerunds and prepositions. By now, you probably know that prepositions should be followed by gerunds. But maybe you're wondering what kinds of phrases this construction happens in.


Mostly commonly, this construction appears in adjective and preposition combinations, as in "excited about," "good at," and "afraid of," and verb and preposition combinations, such as "account for," "depend on," and "agree on." In all of these cases, if you want to follow them with an activity, you must use a gerund.


More examples:

"They're really excited about going to the concert."


"I'm done with trying to please everybody all the time."


"Sam's always been good at talking to people."


Finish the sentence: "I'm really interested in..."


That's it! How many of these mistakes were you familiar with? How many of them did you make yourself? Let me know in the comments, and please ask me any questions you may have about these materials.


If you enjoyed this article, consider supporting my work and improving your English vocabulary with my practical English learning books. They are available in PDF, e-Book, and paperback formats. I wrote all of them with English learners and teachers in mind. Thank you for your support, and good luck with your studies.

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