Sara loves ice cream.
This sentence is as simple as can be: subject (Sara) + verb (loves) + object (ice cream).
Unsurprisingly, most students have no problem recognising, adapting and using this present simple form confidently in spoken and written English.
However, sometimes we need something a little more complicated to express our ideas. This is where things can get a little trickier.
As a teacher, I’ve noticed that students often struggle when trying to form longer, more complicated, sentences. When they need to add more than one verb in a row, they often pick the incorrect form. For example, it would be common to hear a student say:
- I don’t mind to clean my room (incorrect).
Instead of the correct form:
- I don’t mind cleaning my room (correct).
Unlike our first sentence about Sara and ice cream, this one uses a slightly more complicated form. Instead of subject + verb + object, it uses subject + verb + verb + object. Placing two verbs next to each other in the sentence forces us to ask a crucial question: what form should I be using?
This article is going to look at how you can use combinations of verbs correctly to make your English sound much more fluent and confident.
To start off, let’s do a quick review of some of the forms we’re going to be looking at:
The infinitive form of the verb is the “base” or the original form without any conjugation. It is often, but not always, expressed with the preposition to placed before it.
- to go, to eat, to be, to do
However, as we noted, it does not necessarily have to contain the preposition to. If we look at these sentences below, we can see the infinitive without to:
- You should eat more.
- He makes me smile.
- I’ll see you later.
The gerund is the -ing form of a verb when it is not being used in a continuous tense. Although it is a verb, it operates like a noun or a “thing.” For example:
- going, eating, being, doing
The gerund can be both the subject or the object of a sentence. For example:
- Skiing can be dangerous (the subject).
- I absolutely adore skiing (the object).
In the sentence “I am leaving in five minutes,” leaving is part of the continuous tense and, therefore, it is not in the gerund form.
There is no simple rule that we can learn for deciding whether to use an infinitive or gerund form as the second verb in a two verb combination. However, don’t get disheartened just yet.
Let’s say, for example, that you already know three hundred English verbs. That sounds reasonable for someone with an intermediate level of English, right? By learning just eight verb combinations, you are giving yourself the ability to accurately make 2,400 sentences using multiple verbs. That’s an incredible amount of accurate forms to be gained from such a small acquisition of knowledge.
Let’s start with one and see what we mean. We’re going to focus on the verb avoid.
Avoid: to keep away from or to stop oneself from doing something.
This verb is always followed by the gerund in multi-verb sentences. It doesn’t matter which tense you’re using, or even if you’re using avoid in the gerund form, the verb that immediately follows it will always be in the gerund form.
Let's look at some examples:
- I always avoid taking the metro at rush hour because it’s so crowded (present simple).
- She was avoiding seeing him that day because she’d sent him numerous drunken texts the night before (past continuous).
- Avoiding paying for a round of drinks is a very common trick for miserly people (gerund as the subject of the sentence).
Let’s take a look at another verb. This time we’re going to focus on threaten.
Threaten: to state one’s aim to take hostile action against someone in retribution for something done or not done.
Unlike avoid, threaten is always followed by the infinitive in multi-verb sentences. Again, this is irrespective of the tense that we are using. Let’s look at some examples:
- I’d already threatened to call the police before he started getting violent (past perfect).
- She’s threatening to tell the boss unless I accept her conditions (present continuous).
- Threatening to quit your job can sometimes lead to the offer of a pay rise (gerund as the subject of the sentence).
More gerund verbs
There are hundreds of verbs that are always followed by the gerund in multi-verb sentences. Here are just a few to get you started:
- not mind
More infinitive verbs
Similarly, there are hundreds of verbs that are always followed by the infinitive in multi-verb sentences. Here are some below to learn:
Verbs that can be followed by either a gerund or an infinitive
So far, we’ve looked at verbs that are always followed by the gerund and ones that are always followed by the infinitive. However, a third class exists.
These are verbs that can be followed by either the gerund or the infinitive, with little or no difference in meaning. Let’s look at an example:
- I love to swim.
- I love swimming.
Using the verb to love, we can form two sentences, one using the gerund form and the other using the infinitive form. Is there a difference here? Maybe. It could be that we’re using these two forms to express exactly the same idea: I enjoy the physical act of swimming.
However, it’s also possible that these sentences have subtly different meanings. I love to swim could mean that you “enjoy the physical act of swimming,” whereas I love swimming could mean you are interested in the sport of swimming, even though you never swim yourself.
In other contexts, however, there is often zero difference in meaning between using the gerund or infinitive forms.
Let’s take a look at some more verbs that can be followed by either a gerund or an infinitive verb:
- can’t stand
More complicated forms
So far, we’ve focused on fairly basic two verb combinations. However, English is rarely that simple. Therefore, we’re going to take a look at some slightly more complicated forms:
Form #1: make + object + infinitive without to
- She makes me smile.
- They were making me wait for ages.
Form #2: to be + worth + gerund
- Is it worth buying a day-pass?
- It’s not worth taking a taxi. It’s only a five minute walk.
Form #3: Using the infinitive to explain why someone does something.
- I sometimes tell people I’m an astronaut to sound more interesting.
- She opened the window to let some air in.
Form #4: would rather + infinitive without to
- I’d rather be poor than work there.
- He’d rather work early mornings than late at night.
The best way to learn these forms is to practice them. Choose a few verbs from the gerund or infinitive lists above and write out some sentences. Remember to vary the tense (present continuous, past perfect, future simple, etc.) of the first verb in the sentence. You can add your sentences in the comments below.