Be helpful in doing something vs Be helpful to do something

JorgeSoñador

Senior Member
Spanish - Mexico
Hi everyone,
I would like to know the difference in meaning between "be helpful in doing something" and "be helpful to do something".

Here is the context:
"However, the bicycle would be helpful in getting to class, but not the oscilloscope. The 'scope would be more helpful to view a waveform, though."

What's the meaning that "in + gerund" conveys/expresses?
What's the meaning that "to + infinitive" conveys/expresses?

What's the reason for using a gerund or an infinitive?

Thanks in advance,
Jorge
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    These would be used differently in different circumstances, I think. And the subject of being helpful could just as easily be a person as a thing. Also, useful is probably used more often than helpful. And “useful/helpful for doing something” is another common construction.

    All in all, there’s no straightforward answer — especially with such unlikely statements.
     

    JorgeSoñador

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Mexico
    Well, my question is mostly about "the gerund vs the infinitive".
    Why didn't the person who wrote those sentences word them as:

    1. The bicycle would be helpful to get to class.
    2. The 'scope would be more helpful in viewing a waveform

    Or both using the gerund or the infinitive?

    What do you take into account to decide on one or the other when you are going to say a sentence?
    What's the rule, if any?
     
    Last edited:

    Steven David

    Senior Member
    General American English USA - Standard
    Hi everyone,
    I would like to know the difference in meaning between "be helpful in doing something" and "be helpful to do something".

    Here is the context:
    "However, the bicycle would be helpful in getting to class, but not the oscilloscope. The 'scope would be more helpful to view a waveform, though."

    What's the meaning that "in + gerund" conveys/expresses?
    What's the meaning that "to + infinitive" conveys/expresses?

    What's the reason for using a gerund or an infinitive?

    Thanks in advance,
    Jorge

    The bicycle would be helpful in getting to class. <<

    in getting to class < Using the preposition "in" highlights extra focus on the activity of getting to class. It's like saying the bicycle is helpful "in that and in that only".

    With few exceptions, "verb-ing", verbal noun, follows a preposition.

    The scope would be more helpful to view a waveform. <<

    The objective is to view a waveform. The helpfulness of the scope goes in that direction.

    to - Preposition "to" means "in the direction of" or "for the purpose of". We also use "to" when there's an objective or a goal orientation with what comes before it. What comes before "to" is meant to achieve the objective or go in the direction of the objective.

    The base form of a verb follows "to", and verb-ing also follows "to". After "to", both are verbal nouns.

    ... helpful to view a waveform < In this phrase, "view" is the object of "to", a preposition.

    __________________

    This is how we can explain the meaning of each form and the difference between the two.

    Explaining how it is, and why it is, a native speaker chooses one or the other is another topic, I think.

    Generally, it has to do with the meaning of a preposition and speaker viewpoint in context.

    ... ... in getting to class < The helpfulness is contained within getting to class. That's where the focus is. The preposition "in", with this phrase, highlights the idea of exclusive focus: the focus is only "in that activity", nothing else.

    to view a waveform < The objective is "view a waveform". The preposition "to" means "in the direction of", and, of course, we go "in the direction of objectives". Or, in other words, objectives decide the direction we take. This meaning is contained in the preposition "to".
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Gerunds that happen to be interchangeable with infinitives are by no means always preceded by a preposition; and even when they are, it may be any one of a range of prepositions, not just “in”. Also, the “to” before the base form of a verb (or “bare” infinitive) is generally considered to be an “infinitive marker” rather than a preposition.

    It is context, construction and/or established usage that governs whether or not gerunds and infinitives are interchangeable.

    The child began walking / to walk at 11 months of age
    I intend confronting / to confront him about it
    We need help in/with checking / to check the results
    But there is often a nuance:
    Your help in/with checking the results was greatly appreciated :thumbsup:
    Your help to check the results was greatly appreciated :thumbsdown:
    Compromise was essential to settling / in settling / for settling the matter
    Compromise was essential [in order] to settle the matter
    Also, sometimes either an infinitive or a gerund can follow a particular verb, but the meanings are quite different. For example:

    I remembered to lock the door / I remembered locking the door
    They stopped to eat / They stopped eating


     

    JorgeSoñador

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Mexico
    I wonder if the following conclusions are correct:

    1. Something is helpful in doing X (Something is helpful every time I do/perform X. I have been doing/performing X. X is something I started in the past and it continues in the present)
    2. Something is helpful to do X (Something is helpful when the objective is to do X or when it comes to do X)

    Is that correct?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, as usual, the infinitive version implies “in order to” do something (with the aim of doing it/managing to do it).

    But you’re reading too much into the gerund version. It’s not intended to convey “every time” or continuity. A gerund is just what some of us call the present participle of a verb when it’s acting (for syntactical purposes) as a noun representing the execution of whatever action that verb describes.

    He is waving (finite verb form in the present progressive tense, 3rd person singular)
    I can see him waving (present participle as non-finite object complement)
    Waving is what he’s doing (gerund as subject)
     

    Steven David

    Senior Member
    General American English USA - Standard
    I wonder if the following conclusions are correct:

    1. Something is helpful in doing X (Something is helpful every time I do/perform X. I have been doing/performing X. X is something I started in the past and it continues in the present)
    2. Something is helpful to do X (Something is helpful when the objective is to do X or when it comes to do X)

    Is that correct?
    Yes, your conclusions are correct. Thought I would not apply present perfect to this.

    I would say that you really have to try these out in sentences.

    Context provides the vocabulary. So think of a context, and then decide what word you use because of the context.

    Just because the grammar form is correct does not mean that any particular vocabulary word is going to work with it.

    That said, in other words, we don't really know if we understand the form unless we can use it.
     

    JorgeSoñador

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Mexico
    I rethought my conclusions to improve them. So I wonder if these new ones are better, clearer, and simpler than the previous ones.

    1. Something is helpful in doing X (Something is helpful during the process of doing X)
    2. Something is helpful to do X (Something is helpful in order to do X)

    What do you think?
     

    Steven David

    Senior Member
    General American English USA - Standard
    I rethought my conclusions to improve them. So I wonder if these new ones are better, clearer, and simpler than the previous ones.

    1. Something is helpful in doing X (Something is helpful during the process of doing X)
    2. Something is helpful to do X (Something is helpful in order to do X)

    What do you think?

    Yes, those sound good to me. However, I would still use the forms in context and use words in the spaces to be sure that you really understand them.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In the phrase “helpful in [doing something]” the preposition does not imply duration (how long the action takes), any more than the infinitive does if you say it that way.

    I found soft music very helpful in/for getting the baby to sleep.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top