To Shop, or Shopping? Telling the difference between paired Gerunds and Infinitives


So do you or do you not like your teacher?

Let’s be honest, you’re probably pretty good at grammar by now.  You know what a verb tense is, you know your singulars from your plurals, you even know what the “passive voice” is.  But the other day, you said something that confused your friend.

You: I stopped talking to my teacher yesterday.
Your friend: Why?
You: What do you mean?  I saw him in the hallway, so I stopped talking to him.
Your friend: Did he do something bad to you?
You: No!  I just saw him, so I stopped talking!
Your friend: But I thought you liked that teacher!
You: I do!  That’s why I stopped talking to him!
Your friend: That doesn’t make any sense!  Why would you stop talking to him if you liked him?  Wouldn’t you want to talk to him more?
You:… that’s why I stopped to talk to him.
Your friend: Oh!

If you had said, “I stopped to talk to my teacher” instead of “I stopped talking to my teacher” you could have avoided this whole mess!

It’s true that GERUNDS – the “ing” forms of verbs that can sometimes signify a noun – and INFINITIVES – the “to” form of a verb, which can also signify a noun – are easy to mix up sometimes.  Did you “avoid studying” or “avoid to study”? Did you “stand to see” or “stand seeing”?

If you’re unsure, ask yourself which verb in your sentence CAME FIRST.

Here’s an example.  In our situation above about “stop to talk” and “stop talking”, what happened first?

First I walked. Then I stopped. Then I talked.

You were walking, THEN you STOPPED, THEN you TALKED. Use the infinitive if your first verb happened first.

“I stopped to talk to my teacher.”

Let’s try another example.

We talked. Then we stopped. She can be so difficult sometimes!

You and your friend get into a fight, and you don’t want to see, hear, or speak to them ever again.  They’re so mean sometimes! First, you were talking, but now – after the fight – you STOPPED.  So, since your second verb happened first, use the gerund.

“I stopped talking to my friend.”

Let’s try a few more.

Last week, I volunteered _______ at the animal shelter.
a) working
b) to work

Which one came first, the “volunteered” or “work”?  You have to volunteer before you can work, so since our first verb came first, use the infinitive.  Your correct answer is (b).



Let’s try another.

I practiced _________ with my LingoLoop tutor today.
a) speaking
b) to speak

Which one came first, the “practice” or the “speaking”?  You have to speak before you can practice it (otherwise you’re not practicing, you’re learning!) so since our second verb came first, use the gerund.  Your correct answer is (a).


Are you ready to speak?  Would you like to practice speaking?  Contact LingoLoop today to find a tutor who can help you navigate those difficult conversations!

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