I want a better understanding of usage so I can purposefully construct a more compelling narrative.

Luckily, I am friends with English teachers of multiple flavors, including ESL. They are happy to indulge me when I scribble out three versions of a sentence on a brunch napkin and ask them about the sociolinguistic nuances between the variants.

Infinitives and Gerunds

My latest mimosa-inspired napkin scrawl took me into the realm of infinitives and gerunds. These transformed verbs, called verbals, are used after a verb to show further action or states of being.

Cocktail time
Photo by Gabriel Gurrola / Unsplash


These are two-word phrases that consist of the word “to” plus the simplest form of a verb; creating nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

To suffer · To hope · To write

Click here to see more examples.


These are verbs that have “ing” tacked on at the end to form nouns.

I enjoy cleaning. I give writing my full attention. Rob tired of my constant harping.

Click here to see more examples.

Vagaries of the English Language

Applying infinitives and gerunds is not always straight forward. Some verbs will allow only an infinitive or only a gerund, but some verbs can take either. This last case is the trickiest because, usually, the choice won’t change the denoted meaning of the sentence, but on rare occasions it will!  See the table below for a few verb examples.

Nuance of Meaning

This was the core of my most recent question for my English teacher friends. Why would I set up a sentence to use one or the other? And indeed, there are reasons!

According to linguist Dwight Bolinger:

Infinitives suggest actions that are hypothetical, future-oriented, or unfulfilled.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Gerunds suggest actions that are real, vivid, or fulfilled.

Photo by Lubomirkin / Unsplash

Being mindful with our use of infinitives and gerunds can help us better underscore the mood and feeling of our writing.

Let’s try it out! In the table below, I practice with infinitives & gerunds and comment on the shift in nuance or meaning.

As I put the above table together, I could really feel the difference in mood between the sentences with infinitives and those with gerunds. Now that I am more aware of this semantic principle I will be more thoughtful about how I use infinitives and gerunds moving forward.