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For native English speakers: to do vs doing I was thinking as I learn my target language about infinitive vs -ing verb forms in the following examples. How do we decide which to use? Is it arbitrary? Do we follow a rule I've never put a name to? Your opinions, please! I like to cook. vs. I like cooking. She likes to swim. vs. She likes swimming. Etc :-)
Nov 11, 2016 6:41 AM
Answers · 15
If you are talking about an activity which you enjoy, such as 'I like playing guitar' or 'I like to play guitar', you can use either of these constructions, and the meaning is exactly the same. Generally, speakers of American English prefer the infinitive, while British English speakers use the gerund, but there is no difference at all in meaning. Personally, I would always the gerund in this context, but I've become accustomed to hearing the infinitive form more and more as global English becomes steadily more Americanised. However, in other situations there is a clear difference. If you say 'I like doing this', it means that the activity is enjoyable for you. But take a look at these sentences: 'I like to have full insurance cover whenever I go on holiday.' 'I like to have one day a week when I just drink green tea and miso soup.' 'I like to see my dentist once every four months.' Obviously, you don't find these activities enjoyable in themselves -nobody actually enjoys paying insurance premiums, going without food or having a dental checkup. In each of these cases, we use the construction 'I like to do', not because the activity is pleasurable, but because it is a good thing to do - for financial, health or other reasons. You would not use a gerund in these situations. ............. Now, here's my question, specifically for US English speakers: Would I be right in thinking that you use the infinitive in the same way as GB English for the 'I like to see my dentist'-type situations, but that you also use the same construction for activities which you actually enjoy, as in 'I like to cook'? And that 'I like to cook' has exactly the same meaning for you as 'I like cooking'? Or is there a subtle difference for you?
November 11, 2016
Hi Susanne. Here's my take on it: In most cases, there is no choice. For example, 'decide' is always followed by an infinitive and 'enjoy' by a gerund. In others, there is a difference in meaning. For native speakers, there is a obvious difference between the contexts in which we'd say 'He stopped to smoke' and 'He stopped smoking', or 'I remembered to post the letter' and 'I remembered posting the letter'. Foreign learners struggle to see the difference because of first-language interference, but the distinction is clear to us. Even when the difference is more subtle, as in 'Have you tried to speak to him?' versus 'Have you tried speaking to him?', native speakers are intuitively aware that there is a difference and know which one to choose. In a tiny handful of cases, there seems to be no difference. When do we say 'start to work' or 'start working', for example? It's probably just down to familiar collocations, personal preference, or what 'sounds best' in a given utterance. 'Like doing' as opposed to 'like to do' is an interesting one. For me, as a British English speaker, there is a very clear difference, but I'm aware that this isn't the case for American English speakers. In fact, this very same question came up a day or so ago. Here's the link, if anyone's interested: I'll copy and paste my response from that thread below.
November 11, 2016
Su.Ki. always gives the best answer on this frequently asked question. I’ll just add that in US English, I would probably say “I like to see my dentist” (since I don’t enjoy it) and “I like cooking,” but I would just as easily say “I like to cook.” I think the gerund suggests that I most likely actually engage in that activity now (in the extended present). Another example: We can say “I like having insurance coverage,” which implies that I probably have such coverage now, and I like it. If we say “I like to have insurance coverage,” that implies that I probably do not have such coverage at the moment, but I wish I did. The difference is fairly subtle, though. One other point: In the conditional, we usually use the infinitive “I would like to live in Singapore” — this simply expresses a desire. On the other hand, if we say “I would like living in Singapore,” it means that if I lived in Singapore, I would enjoy life there. That’s my two cents — or twopence, if you prefer British currency — and know how all those weird denominations are pronounced ;)
November 12, 2016
I think this is a really complex principle that doesn't perfectly fit into a rule per se but there are definite differences in usage (although I havn't studied English grammar at a highly advanced level). I think the choice between the present participle (-ing) and the infinitive (to ...) is often largely determined by the preceding verb. In the example of the verb to like, either is equally acceptable, however I think there are often cultural preferences we lean toward. For example I would probably tend toward "I like cooking" rather than "I like to cook". Although this would be superseded by any previous conversation, as I would likely answer with the corresponding form based on the question asked of me. "what do you like doing?" or what do you like to do". With other preceding verbs this can however be more serious. For example "I stopped smoking" and "I stopped to smoke" have very different meanings.and you would never say "I quit to smoke". I am not sure that this can be easily tied into a rule, but maybe needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis. I generally encourage learners to use the present participle as the first port of call as this more often corresponds to the natural response if you are unsure and need to guess. I would love it if someone could enlighten me further.
November 11, 2016
"I like cooking" implies you have done some cooking before.
November 11, 2016
Language Skills
English, German, Korean
Learning Language
German, Korean