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5 Verbs with Meaning Changes: Gerunds and Infinitives – Advanced

February 28, 2013

Have you ever tried to study (but couldn’t) or tried studying (started, then stopped) these tricky verbs?

In last week’s blog post, we saw a method for teaching gerunds and infinitives to students in a clear, organized way. We learned that, following a main verb, there is a lot of memorization and practice required on the students’ part in order to keep which verbs take gerunds and which take infinitives straight.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, there are certain verbs in English that change their meaning depending on if they're followed by a gerund or an infinitive! These verbs are best left for high‑intermediate or advanced learners to muddle through, but when they’re ready, here is a handy list of some of the most common verbs of this type.

1. Try

Try + Gerund

Try + Gerund means that you started doing something, then stopped for some reason (usually because it was too difficult).

  • She tried learning French, but she gave up after a few months. (She found French too difficult.)

Try + Infinitive

Try + Infinitive means that you attempted something but couldn’t do it for some reason.

  • She tried to get into the club, but she got ID’d. (She attempted to enter the club even though she was underage, but she didn’t get in.)
Be careful!

Sometimes you can hear “try” with both a gerund and an infinitive where the meaning is essentially the same. The reason this is possible is because the focus is slightly different. For example:

  • I tried calling you last night. (I attempted to call you once [or many times], but I eventually gave up.)
  • I tried to call you last night. (You never picked up the phone, so I couldn’t talk to you.)

2. Stop

Stop + Gerund

Stop + Gerund means you quit doing something.

  • He stopped smoking last week. (He quit smoking.)

Stop + Infinitive

Stop + Infinitive means you were doing something and then took a break, or you stopped on your way somewhere.

  • Even though he was behind in his work, he stopped to smoke a cigarette. (He stopped working to have a smoke break.)
  • I stopped to buy milk on my way home. (I went to the store before going home.)

3. Forget

Forget + Gerund

Forget + Gerund means that you have already done something, but can’t remember doing it.

  • She didn’t recognize him at all. She forgot meeting him last summer. (She forgot that she had met him before.)

Forget + Infinitive

Forget + Infinitive means that you had the intention of doing something, but didn’t remember to do it.

  • She forgot to meet her client for lunch, so she got an angry phone call from him later. (She had plans to meet her client, but she didn’t remember to do it.)

4. Remember

Remember + Gerund

Remember + Gerund means that you did something in the past, and you can remember doing it. (This is usually used when you’re surprised that you that recall that far back. It’s also used when you’re reminiscing with friends.)

  • I remember falling down the stairs when I was four years old.

Remember + Infinitive

Remember + Infinitive means that you had the intention of doing something, and you remembered to do it.

  • My husband was happy that I remembered to pay the bills on time last month.

5. Regret

Regret + Gerund

Regret + Gerund means that you did something that you wish you hadn’t.

  • I regretted telling him my secret because he told everyone at my school. (I wish I hadn’t told him my secret.)

Regret + Infinitive

Regret + Infinitive means that you’re sorry (usually used in formal cases only).

  • We regret to tell you that your application was not accepted. (We’re sorry to have to tell you this.)

Don’t stop to worry about these difficult verbs, just stop worrying! :)


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Comments (23)

Kajanthan (Guest)

Thank you very much for sharing, and I always confuse with gerunds and infinitive my question is 'Is there any verb lists Or rules to use gerunds or infinitive as subject?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Kajanthan,

Thanks for your comment. I agree, gerunds and infinitives can be confusing! For the subject position, both a gerund and an infinitive are possible with any main verb. But remember that it is always best to use a gerund in the subject position because an infinitive as a subject is very formal and not common. (A famous example of an infinitive as a subject is this Shakespeare quote: 'To be or not to be, that is the question.' The English used in Shakespeare's plays is old, formal English---not common today.)

Did you see my other blog post on Gerunds and Infinitives? Find it here: http://www.esl-library.com/blog/2013/02/21/gerunds-and-infinitives-helpful-teaching-tips/

We are currently developing a resource section for ESL-Library, and we will definitely include a list of common verbs that are followed by gerunds and infinitives. Keep checking back! :)

Mojtaba (arjomandi)(Guest)

MY kind professor is it correct that I say,' Jane quit working at David's. = Jane isn't working there anymore. = now & in the future she doesn't work there.(from many years ago to the end of future.)
Jane quit working at David's.=She quit another job in order to work at David's. = She would like to work in it & a few days later she will probably work in it.'
If may explain more.
I kiss your hands,

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Mojtaba,

Your first example is correct. 'Jane quit working at David's' means that David's is a company, and Jane used to work there but now she doesn't. Be careful, though, because 'quit' doesn't guarantee anything about the future. Jane doesn't work there now, but she might start working there again next week if they offer her more money! ;)

Your second example isn't correct...we can't use 'quit' and 'at' in this way. To get the meaning you want (that Jane quit another job in order to work at David's), you would need to explain it more.
Some examples:
'Jane quit working at Starbucks in order to take a job at David's.'
'Jane quit working at Starbucks because she got a job at David's.'

Hope this helps!

Melany (Guest)

what about the verb 'mean' ?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Melany,

Good question. When the verb 'mean' takes an infinitive verb, the meaning is 'intend.' Examples:
'I mean to finish this report by 5:00 pm.'
'She means to apply to Harvard.'

It is possible to use 'mean' with a gerund if you're explaining what you mean to someone.
'When you said winter sports, did you mean skiing or snowboarding?'
'I meant skiing.'

maedeh (Guest)

what about verb (begin) (dread) (forget)

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Maedeh,

The verb 'forget' has two different meanings—they are mentioned above in point #3. 'Begin' and 'dread' both have the same meaning when followed by a gerund or an infinitive. We can say 'She began to study' or 'She began studying.' We can also say 'She dreads telling her parents' or 'She dreads to think what her parents will say.' Note that 'dread + infinitive' is only common with the verb 'think'.

Hope that helps!

almar (Guest)

i was just wondering if you'd explain more about the verb 'mean' and what does the verb mean if followed by either infinitive or gerund. thank you!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Almar,

I answered a question about 'mean' below (Melany's question from Aug 21, 2015), but I'll paste the answer here again for your convenience.

When the verb “mean” takes an infinitive verb, the meaning is “intend.” Examples:
“I mean to finish this report by 5:00 pm.”
“She means to apply to Harvard.”

It is possible to use “mean” with a gerund if you’re explaining what you mean to someone.
“When you said winter sports, did you mean skiing or snowboarding?”
“I meant skiing.”

Kim Hardiman(Guest)

Hi Tanya,
I have a question about the verb BEGIN with gerunds and infinitives. We can use the past verb tense, “it began to rain” or “it began raining.” But if we put BEGIN in the present perfect tense with a gerund, it sounds strange. “It has begun raining.” If we add an infinitive, it sounds good. “It has begun to rain.” Can you explain why we can or can’t add a gerund when BEGIN is in the present perfect verb tense with RAINING? Does RAINING change the meaning? My grammar teacher gave me 2 examples that have the same meaning when he changed RAINING to a different gerund with BEGIN in the present perfect verb tense.

a. I have begun exercising in the mornings. I have begun to exercise in the morning.
b. Susan has begun dating John. Susan has begun to date John.

I look forward to your answer!
Thank you,

Reply to Comment

Kim Hardiman(Guest)

Hi Tanya,
Thanks for all your examples and suggestions! “Start” sounds much better than “begin” with the present perfect and a gerund or infinitive. I haven’t even thought about that, but I have used that phrase several times. It has started to rain and it has started raining! I think that linguists can explain the etymology behind “begin” versus “start” with collocations, connotations, and variations of grammatical discourse. I will show your response to my grammar teacher to see what he thinks. Thanks again for your help!


Nayeli (Guest)

Wow! I needed the exact verbs you explained! (That plus go on hehe).
Thank you so much for sharing, you are very kind to take your time and explain this through the easiest way possible.
Best regards,

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Oh, go on! ;)

Thanks for your comment! Here's the meaning differences for go on in case anyone else is wondering:

  • go on + gerund / Even though the power went out, she went on studying. / = carry on, continue doing something

  • go on + infinitive / After graduating from university, he went on to become a doctor. / = the next step, what happened after something related

abolfazl (Guest)

Thank you very much for your helpful content.
I am from Iran, and this contents is very good and I'm ready for the exam in English class today.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Good luck on your exam! :)

Angad M.S(Guest)

Hi tanya,
Can you tell me some confusing gerunds for a class activity?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Angad, I'm not sure what you mean by 'confusing gerunds.' Usually it's the preceding verb that causes confusion. The verbs in this post (try, stop, forget, remember, and regret) are probably the ones where students have the most confusion over the choice of a gerund or infinitive. Try this post for more rules about when to use gerunds: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2013/02/21/gerunds-and-infinitives-helpful-teaching-tips/

There are also plenty of activities in our Gerunds & Infinitives lesson: https://esllibrary.com/courses/88/lessons/2256

Ali (Guest)

Hi tanya
i have exam
it was useful
wish me luck!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Ali, I'm glad to hear this post was useful! I hope you did well on your exam. Best of luck for future exams too!

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