In today’s lesson we are going to compare two verbals: the gerund and the infinitive. From previous lessons, you learned that a gerund is a verb form that acts like a noun. And an infinitive is also a verb form that can take the form of a noun, an adjective, and an adverb. You will also hear infinitives and gerunds referred to as verb complements because they complete the meaning of the verb and they are also classed as non-finite verbs, meaning that they do not show tense. They always follow a main verb because on their own, the gerund and the infinitive do not indicate past, present or future.
What is the Difference in Meaning Between the Gerund and the To-Infinitive?
But for today’s lesson we are going to look at the to-infinitive acting as a noun because if we’re going to compare it to the gerund, you know what the gerund acts like a noun so we want to be comparing the same function.
Let’s quickly review what gerunds and infinitives are. To start, gerunds and infinitives are verb complements because they complete or add to the meaning of the verb. Simply stated, a gerund is a verb plus the -ing ending. And it functions as a noun in the sentence by appearing as the subject, the subject complement, a direct object, an indirect object, the object of the preposition, an appositive, and following a possessive adjective.
The infinitive can function as an adjective and as an adverb and if you want to learn more about this, please check out the previous lesson and I’ll link it below. But for today’s lesson we’re looking at the infinitive when it functions as a noun.
We will compare the gerund vs the to infinitive and their functions as subjects, subject complements, and direct objects.
We will also look at verbs that take only the gerund, verbs that take only the infinitive, verbs that take both the gerund and the infinitive with little or no change in meaning, verbs that take the gerund and infinitive with a change in meaning, and verbs that are followed by “to” plus the gerund.
Before we look at all the syntactic constructions, let’s try to answer the burning question that all students have: What is the difference in meaning between a gerund and an infinitive. Is there a difference between a gerund and an infinitive?
To answer this question we will refer to the work of two great early 20th century linguists: Dwight Bolinger, an American linguist, who studied and wrote extensively on the nuance of language. His 1977 work Meaning and Form was instrumental in establishing the principle that a difference in form implies a difference in perceived meaning.
And Otto Jespersen, Danish linguist who specialized in the grammar of the English language and whose books such as Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin (1922) and The Philosophy of Grammar (1924) challenged the accepted views of common concepts in grammar and proposed corrections to the basic definitions of grammatical concepts. Today, this book is still used as one of the basic texts in modern structural linguistics.
According to Bolinger, The two complement forms (GERUND AND INFINITIVE) do express different shades of meaning: The gerund expresses habitual and actual actions while the to-infinitive expresses future or potential actions. Gerunds describe actions that are real and actually happen real, vivid, fulfilled.
This also explains why verbs like enjoy and avoid take only the gerund (i.e., you can only enjoy things you’ve already experienced; to avoid something is a successful fulfillment of sorts).
By choosing the gerund form, the preceding verb will imply a frequent, already experienced action, entailing positive or negative feelings toward the event.
Verbs such as detest, dislike, enjoy, and prefer, refer to actions previously experienced, because we dislike/hate something only if we have previously experienced the action: “I dislike doing grocery shopping” or “I enjoy skating”. Indeed, these verbs do entail positive or negative feelings toward the actions as referring to ‘something actually done’. Its progressive aspect is another essential feature of the gerund, which can express actual past events.
INFINITIVES (specifically the to infinitive)
Infinitives describe unfulfilled outcomes hypothetical, future, unfulfilled. Verbs like want and hope take only the infinitive (i.e., they represent future unfulfilled events) If the to-infinitive form is chosen, then the preceding verb will entail a future meaning, implying ‘potentiality or ‘something projected’.
This principle explains why verbs like want and hope take only the infinitive (i.e., they represent future unfulfilled events).
If the to-infinitive form is chosen, then the preceding verb will entail, or accompany, a future meaning, implying ‘potentiality or ‘something projected’
Verbs such as plan, hope, want, wish, and so forth, imply a future action, something not yet experienced, or known: “I plan to go to Italy this summer”, or “I wish to go to Italy this summer”. These actions represent ‘something projected’ as opposed to ‘something actually done'(gerund).