EN: contribute to + infinitive / V-ing


Senior Member
I've got a problem with this point of grammar : I know that sometimes, english uses a verb with "ing" after a verb (I know it's not clear, it's tricky for me to explain it in english). For instance : I'm used to beeing called... I'm looking forward to improving...
But I found this sentence : "The British blockade of the Central Powers contributed to soaring mortality rates."
Why not saying : "to soar" in this case ? Would it be uncorrect ?
  • mtmjr

    Senior Member
    English (US)
    If we rewrite the phrase:

    The British blockade of the Central Powers contributed to the mortality rates which were soaring.

    Here, you can see that "soaring" is not a form of "to soar", but rather an adjective describing the mortality rates. It is the same situation in your other examples:

    I'm used to being called... The verb here is "to be used to", not "to be" followed by a form of "to call".

    I'm looking forward to improving... The verb is "to look forward to", not "to look" plus a form of "to improve".


    English - USA
    Actually, I'm sorry but don't quite agree with the analysis above. :) The -ing form is not an adjective. It is either a gerund (nominal form), or a participle (the present participle, to be precise, which is a verbal form).

    When it refers to the performance of an action, the -ing form is a gerund (nominal).
    When it modifies a noun (attributively or absolutely), the -ing form is a participle.

    In these two sentences, the -ing form is a gerund.
    I'm looking forward to improving my Spanish.
    I'm used to being called Jennie.

    The action whose performance you anticipate with pleasure ('to look forward to') is that of 'improving your Spanish'. Note that the subject of the sentence is also the person who will improve his Spanish.

    You are accustomed to ('to be used to') the performance of the action of 'being called Jennie'
    Note that this sentence uses a passive construction. The subject of the sentence is also the person accustomed to the name 'Jennie,' but "to be called Jennie --> being called Jennie" is passive voice.

    On the other hand, the -ing form is a participle in the following sentence.
    The blockade contributed to soaring mortality rates.

    There is no performance of an action here. If we said, "The blockade contributed to mortality rates that were soaring" you would have no trouble identifying the -ing form as a participle (tense: past continuous) in a relative clause. Converting to an elliptical construction (mortality rates that were soaring --> soaring mortality rates) does not change the function of the -ing form. It is still a participle. When an -ing form modifies a noun absolutely in this way, it is a participle.

    The necessary structure in your sentence is contribute to + nominal form. Therefore, contribute to + infinitive is impossible (to contribute to soar mortality rates :cross:)

    So we can say:
    1. it contributes to unemployment
    2. it contributes to decreasing [=gerund, performance of the action of lowering, from the transitive verb "to decrease"] unemployment = it decreases unemployment (it is one of several factors that decrease unemployment)
    3. it contributes to rising [=participle acting to describe the following noun, because "to rise" is intransitive] unemployment = unemployment is rising, and "it" contributes to this phenomenon

    If you have trouble distinguishing between the 2nd and 3rd example sentences, remember that the 2nd example is grammatically parallel to...
    it contributes to helping [=gerund, performance of the action of assisting, from the transitive verb "to help"] my friends

    ...and that you could also choose to interpret the 2nd example sentence as
    2(b). it contributes to decreasing [=participle acting to describe the following noun from an intransitive usage of the verb "to decrease"] unemployment = unemployment is decreasing, and "it" contributes to this phenomenon.

    I hope that makes sense!! You can read more about the English -ing form here.
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    Senior Member
    France French
    Hello to all

    After contribute, one can either use the infinitive or a form in ING..
    I wonder if someone could explain to me how to choose ? Is there a context, a nuance that can guide the choice ?

    For instance between these two sentences, is one better (or different) than the other ?
    A- Their comparison will contribute to highlight the various drivers of adaptive capacity

    B- Their comparison will contribute to highlighting the various drivers of adaptive capacity

    Thanks in advance


    All in One


    Macmillan est catégorique là-dessus :

    Macmillan dictionary said:
    Get it right: contribute
    Don't use a verb in the infinitive after contribute. Use the pattern contribute to doing something:
    :cross: Technology has contributed to improve our lives.
    :tick: Technology has contributed to improving our lives.
    :cross: A positive aspect of education is that it contributes to confirm one's identity.
    :tick: A positive aspect of education is that it contributes to confirming one's identity.
    You can also use the pattern contribute to something:
    Technology has contributed to improvements in our lives.


    English - USA
    Je ne mettrais pas un X rouge à côté de to contribute to + infinitive. La structure est bien possible, simplement elle ne traduit pas "contribuer à + infinitif". On est donc bien d'accord qu'elle ne convient pas dans les exemples ici. :)

    contribuer à + infinitif = to contribute to + forme nominale
    --> to contribute to improving our lives / ... to the improvement of our lives
    --> to contribute to confirming one's identity / ... to the confirmation of one's identity

    En revanche, to contribute + to + infinitive peut exister par ellipse : contribuer {sous-entendu: quelquechose, ou à quelque chose} de façon à, afin de + proposition.
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