Like + ing like+to: still a shade of meaning?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Lavernock, May 28, 2011.

  1. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    I know that English and US American usage differs here. I always use "like +ing" when I mean that something causes me pleasure.

    I like eating in restaurants. (makes me happy)

    But I use "like+to" to talk about something I do which is convenient or generally a sensible idea. But don't necessarily like.

    I like to go to the dentist twice a year. I dislike going to the dentist but wish to conserve my teeth.

    I like to do the housework in the morning. I get it out of the way and can do other things after lunch.

    I like to get up at five in the morning and go for a ten mile run. I dislike getting up early and hate running, but I'm a diabetic and it does wonders for my blood sugar.

    I teach English for a living and have seen that many modern textbooks now claim that these two forms are both correct and interchangable. If this is really so, haven't we done away with what I consider to be an important shade of meaning?
     
  2. scrotgrot Senior Member

    English - English
    I can't think of another way you would convey that. I think the difference between the two uses of like to are differentiated by tone, if I actually liked doing something I'd pick out like with a higher tone, if I didn't I'd sort of skip over it almost.
     
  3. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello Lavernock

    There are quite a few previous threads on like to vs like -ING: here are just some of them

    Gerund, infinitive: I <enjoy, like, love> <eating, to eat> pizza.
    Gerund, infinitive: I <like, love, hate> + <gerund, infinitive>?
    Gerund, infinitive: I don't like <using, to use> artificial flavour enhancers ...
    Gerund, infinitive: I like <cooking, to cook>.
    Gerund, infinitive: I like <going, to go> ...
    Gerund, infinitive: I like <going, to go> to the beach.
    Gerund, infinitive: like (love, hate, prefer) + infinitive or + -ing form
    Do you like cooking? Do you like to cook?
    I like dancing / to dance

    I'd say that the general feeling emerging from the threads listed is that there can be a difference between the gerund and infinitive constructions, but that there isn't always...:)



    (PS I've edited your title to show that you're asking whether a distinction has been lost, rather than what the distinction is.)
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  4. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English

    Thanks for your answer.

    I'm not sure I know what you mean by a change of tone. The trouble with "tones" is that they are infinitely interpretable. If the use of each of form has a precise and unambiguous meaning, which I think they do, or should do, or used to do, wouldn't it be better and more expressive to use one or the other according to the idea you wish to express and not have to depend the ability of the listener to read between the lines?
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  5. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    What I'm worried about is the distinction being lost. There is or there was a definite difference. Do you like going to the dentist? or do you like to go? I suspect that few people like going to the dentist. When we take two different expressions, which potentially have different meanings and merge them into one, we are in effect reducing the precision of our speech and impoverishing our language.
     
  6. Momerath Senior Member

    British English
    I don't think the distinction has been lost. The analysis in your first post seems to me to be perfectly valid. I would take the ideas expressed in modern textbooks or by professional linguists with a pinch of salt.
     
  7. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    Thank you Momerath. Sigh of relief!
     
  8. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    I agree completely. I think the only cases where the two forms are interchangeable are ones where both meanings can apply:
    I don't like hearing young children crying
    I don't like to hear young children crying

    These are both possible with some overlap in the meaning.

    But, for example,
    I like to know who's here and who's absent
    expresses a clear concept. Knowing who's here doesn't necessarily cause pleasure.
     
  9. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    Hello Einstein

    Yes, I agree there are some overlapping cases where both forms would be possible, but I think that even in these cases the meaning is not always identical. For instance in your second example, I don't like to hear young children crying, we might add, because they keep me awake at night. In the first we might add, because it really upsets me.
     
  10. scrotgrot Senior Member

    English - English
    I mean you would probably say it with a higher pitch which generally picks out a word, and actually most spoken conversation when transcribed is complete bullshit; it's full of self-interruptions and ungrammatical utterances. In a spoken conversation things like tone, context and body language are infinitely important.

    (I subtitle educational videos for the Khan Academy and it's ridiculously hard to understand the transcripts because of this kind of thing. But as soon as you watch the video and hear the person speaking it all makes sense what they're trying to say.)
     
  11. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    Hi Scotgrot

    I certainly agree with what what you say about body language and even more about inaccurate and incoherent speech. That is precisely why I dislike generalising expressions to a point where anybody can apply their own interpretation. For lesser experts on body language (i.e.the majority) there can be no substitute for unambiguous expression.
     
  12. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    But haven't you got them the wrong way round?
     
  13. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English

    Hi Einstein,

    I start from the premise that when I use "like to". I mean it's convenient or suitable rather than pleasurable. "I like to buy everything in the Hipermarket, because I can get everything under the same roof." So "I don't like to hear young children cry because they keep me awake. i.e inconvenient. Isn't that what I said? I think I may have confused you by starting with your second example first.

    Wait a minute ... Yes you're right, wrong way round. I stand corrected

    Thanks.
     
  14. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    You Brits are hearing something that totally escapes me. To me, the OP usages are fully interchangeable.
     
  15. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    Thanks for answer. I was a little disappointed not to have a comment from a US american.

    Do you use the "ing" form with the verb to like.

    I like eating in restaurants.
    or would you prefer
    I like to eat in restaurants.
     
  16. scrotgrot Senior Member

    English - English
    Most people are naturals at interpreting body language - remember, the primary function of language is just making yourself understood when you're standing in front of someone. Unambiguous expressions are perfectly desirable for the written medium, of course. But in the spoken medium they can actually get rather confusing and alienating. Surely your original example is more the sort of thing people say than the sort of thing they write.
     
  17. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
     
  18. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    Thank you very much for taking the trouble answer in such detail. I am very interested in language trends in the USA. There must also be a great variety of usage as your country is so big. We get a lot of American films on TV here in Europe and I'm always interested in identifying the state, the accent and vocabularly.

    Thanks again
     
  19. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    For me, I think there is a circumstantial element as well. What I mean by this is that "in restaurants" adds an element of place to eating, which makes me likely to use the infinitive; however, eating in restaurants is still fairly generic, so use of the gerund going certainly isn't ruled out.

    I think we can both agree that eating in restaurants and going out to eat are roughly the same, but the element in restaurants is embedded in going out to eat, so I think I would almost always say, "I like going out to eat," not, "I like to go out to eat."
     
  20. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    I learnt this distinction in English. I also see that many sources, especially those aimed at beginner through intermediate students, mention no difference between the two. I can see some pragmatical reasons behind that. One of my sources which recognises the difference says that American English frequently uses the infinitive when 'like' means 'to enjoy' (A Practical English Grammar, A. V. Thomson, Oxford).
    I once explained this difference to a French student of English who asked if there was any between 'like doing' and 'like to do' and was accused, by a native British English speaker, of inventing things that didin't exist in English. I'm glad to see that you raised the question, Lavernock, and that there are English native speaekers who still discern and appreciate the nuance making your language richer.
     
  21. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I have no preference between the two. I would, and do, use either. To me, they're completely interchangeable.
     
  22. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English

    Thank you for your answer.

    The problem is that many people when they speak their native language, do so by instinct, they do use nuances but don't stop to think. The English native speaker who wrongly accused you, probably did so simply out of lack of reflection.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2011
  23. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    I like watching a good film = I enjoy watching a good film

    I like to do the housework in the morning so that I can do other things in the afternoon. This doesn't mean I enjoy doing the housework.

    If I enjoy doing housework . I say: I like doing housework. Do you still think they are completely interchangable?
     
  24. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    The circumstantial element is very important. I would also go along with your other comments.
     
  25. Xander2024 Senior Member

    Southern Russia
    Russian
    That's interesting, Lavernock. According to this logic, it would make no sense in BE to say "I like to play golf", right? Since hardly anyone can find playing golf convenient or suitable, but rather a pleasurable pastime, it should always be "I like playing golf", shouldn't it?
     
  26. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    Strictly speaking "I like playing golf" would be better, if you mean "I enjoy playing golf".

    But "I like to play golf because it gets me out in the open air and takes my mind off the problems I have at work."

    However, as Ribran pointed out, there are circumstantial elements which give things a certain flexibility. The second sentence may imply that apart from enjoying golf, I have the added advantage of physical and mental health benefits. It could also signify that golf is merely a means of getting me out of the house and distracting my mind.

    Others may not agree and claim there is no difference in one form or the other.
     
  27. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Why? If you compare two sports activities and you think that golf is better, because, for example, it's not so strenuous an activity as the other one, then why not 'I like to play golf [instead of tennins]'?

    EDIT: I've just seen the answer above.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2011
  28. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    I would say that this is generally true. Let's take Xander's example, I like to play golf. If I overheard two guys discussing plans to form a golf club at their school, and one mentioned that they still didn't have enough members, I could approach them and say, "I like to play golf." For me, this is another example of a circumstance. It's not just that I like playing golf, but also that two people in close proximity are talking about golf and looking for people to join their club; it is true, however, that without some special context, Xander's sentence would leave me wondering how playing golf benefits my interlocutor.
     
  29. Xander2024 Senior Member

    Southern Russia
    Russian
    So, Ribran, does the "I like to play golf" in your example mean "I wouldn't mind playing golf once in a while if there will be a golf club at our school and if it will help you somehow."?
     
  30. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    Exactly. It's more than saying that I enjoy playing golf. I see how I can help them, so I offer to join their club, which, of course, doesn't yet exist.
     
  31. Xander2024 Senior Member

    Southern Russia
    Russian
    Good. :) Thanks for the explanation.
    But does the same rule hold for the verb "to love"?
    In one of my books, the author says there is a difference between "I love to lie on my back and stare at the sky" and "I love lying on my back and staring at the sky." The problem is, the author is not a native speaker and I would like to hear how BE and AE speakers feel about this statement.

    P.S.I hope it's not off-topic.
     
  32. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English
    No, not off topic. To love doing/to do something or to adore doing/to do something = to like to do/doing something very much.

    But again there would be many circumstantial nuances.
     
  33. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    In isolation, the second one sounds more natural to me. I suppose the infinitive makes me expect either a circumstance or a logical reason. To me, the second sentence sounds so much sweeter and nicer. (What a great reason, huh? :p)

    The following sentence would work for me: On warm Sunday evenings, I love to go outside, lay a blanket down on the grass, and spend hours staring at the sky.
     
  34. Xander2024 Senior Member

    Southern Russia
    Russian
    Ah, the infinitive implies an action one likes to do from time to time or under certain circumstances while the gerund conveys an action in general, right?
     
  35. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think I agree with that, as long as you accept that the gerund/action may, in some cases/contexts be performed by someone other than the speaker

    I like to dance. (On occasion, from time to time)
    I like (to watch) dancing.
     
  36. Lavernock Senior Member

    Spain
    wales English

    I agree. Your sentence also implies, at least to me, that this is something you do with a certain regularity, more so than would "I love going outside.."
     
  37. Pratolini Senior Member

    Inglese
    I think that "I like doing...." etc means it gives pleasure, whereas "I like to do..." etc expresses a preference.
     
  38. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think this is summarizes the situation that created the first post. It seems to me that it is a sub-set of the usage of the word "like" in which it means "prefer the lesser of two evils" - " I don't like doing housework, but if you force me, I like (i.e., prefer) to do it in the morning rather than the afternoon." However, "I like to do X" does not always have that narrow a meaning for many people. Lavernock is saddened by the loss of the distinction but I am not sure it was uniformly observed (I didn't feel it was a clear one in my learning of English in SE England).
     

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