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Exceptions to the Noun + Infinitive Rule

October 16, 2014

Have your students spent enough time studying gerunds and infinitives?

Gerunds and infinitives are many students’ worst nightmare. Certain verbs are followed by the ‑ing form of a verb (gerund), and others are followed by to + base verb (infinitive). Students often feel that hours of memorization are required to keep gerunds and infinitives straight.

Luckily, there are four rules that are almost always true:

  1. noun + infinitive
  2. adjective + infinitive
  3. preposition + gerund
  4. subject = gerund

(See Gerunds and Infinitives: Helpful Teaching Tips for more information and examples.) However, almost all English grammar rules have exceptions.

While the noun + infinitive rule is very useful for students, there is an important exception involving time that is common enough to warrant pointing it out to students.

The Noun + Infinitive Rule

If there is a noun or pronoun following the main verb, it should be followed by the infinitive form. Examples:

  • I asked my friend to help me move next Saturday.
  • She wanted him to call her.
  • My coworkers need me to finish the project on time.
  • The teacher advised her students to study for the test.

The last example with the verb “advise” shows just how useful this rule is. Advise is usually followed by a gerund (Our teacher advised studying for the test), but when you add a noun/pronoun object, the noun + infinitive rule takes precedence (The teacher advised her students to study for the test).

The Exception

Spend/Waste Time + Gerund

While the noun + infinitive rule works in almost every case, there is a common exception involving time. When the phrases spend time or waste time are used, the noun “time” is NOT followed by an infinitive. A gerund always follows these phrases. Also note that the noun “time” can be replaced by an amount of time (using the nouns months, days, hours, minutes, etc.) and a gerund is still required. Examples:

  • I spent time working on my project last night.
  • He wastes a lot of time watching TV.
  • My sister is spending five hours helping out at the auction.
  • They have wasted four days arguing about it.

But be careful! If the noun “time” is not part of the spend time/waste time phrase, the normal noun + infinitive rule applies.

  • I have time to help you today.
  • They need more time to finish the test.


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Comments (2)

RoadToGrammar (Guest)

Definitely a tricky one, but worth a few minutes explaining it to a class, because they do make mistakes with it.

'spend times' is another mistake that my students often make.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

That's a great point. Students often say the plural by mistake, when 'time' is an uncountable noun in this context.

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