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Gerund, infinitive: like (love, hate, prefer) + infinitive or + -ing form

Discussion in 'English Only' started by marinesea, Aug 9, 2005.

  1. marinesea Senior Member

    Hello :)

    Which sentence is more common: 'I like skiing' or 'I like to ski'?

    Is it more common to use gerund or infinitive after the verb 'to like'?

    thank you

    << See also Gerund, infinitive >>
  2. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I would say "I like skiing" but both are acceptable.

    The gerund is usually used if someone asks you "What do you like doing?"

    However, if you are just mentioning your inclination for the first time, it would be more common (than in the first case) to use the infinitive.

    There's not really a rule set in stone; context might determine which form is preferred.
  3. TheCandidate Member

    Hi marinesea,

    I´m not a native but i have studied a rule that may help you.
    Both are correct, you can use gerund when you speak in general and infinitive for a particular situation.

    Which sport do you like? I like swimming.(In general)
    I like to swim in the mornings.(Particular situation)

    Wait for a native opinion but that is what English grammar books say.
  4. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I disagree.

    You can say "I like to swim" (in general) and "I like swimming in the morning."

    Both are correct.
  5. TheCandidate Member

    SUCCESS AT FIRST CERTIFICATE Ed.Oxford Univesity Press

    page165: Verbs followed by either the -ing form or the infinitive

    2a When verbs like can't bear , like, love, hate, prefer are followed by the -ing form, they tend to refer to a GENERAL activity.

    2b BUT when these verbs are followed by the infinitive, they tend to refer to PARTICULAR occasions.

    It isn´t a matter of agree or disagree, it is just the English grammar.

  6. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Notice the very important words "tend to."

    I do disagree because it is not a fixed rule, as I showed with my examples. :)
  7. TheCandidate Member

    I did notice it, that´s why in my first post i said "Both are correct" firstly.

    I didn´t say it is as a fixed rule i only said it may help.

    Your example "i like to swim" is correct but as The oxford book says the best form is "I like swimming" if you are speaking in General.

    :) See ya.
  8. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I understand.

    See, I think it might confuse more than it could help, because someone might rely on the "rule" unconditionally - which is why I said "I disagree."

    I disagree that the purported tendency should bear any merit regarding one's personal style of writing. As I said, context might be a determining factor; in most cases, the two forms are interchangeable.
  9. marinesea Senior Member

    Could you, please, explain what this phrase mean :) (sorry to stray from the subject)

    thank you
  10. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    Asking "what did you just say?" is not straying from the subject!:)

    Purported tendency refers back to this: ...they tend to refer to PARTICULAR occasions. Purported means "claimed". So my understanding is this:

    Elroy does not think that the tendency of the infinitive to refer to particular occasions, as claimed by the Candidate, should have any significance in Elroy's personal style of writing.

    (My apologies, Elroy, if I'm speaking out of turn.)

    I agree that both of your original sentences sound fine to me, but I prefer "what do you like to do?" over "what do you like doing?"
    Oddly enough, the one word reply "Skiing!" sounds better than the one word reply "To ski!"

    The other oddity that just came to mind is that if I replace "like" with "enjoy" the gerund is absolutely required: you cannot say "I enjoy to ski."
  11. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    I have a slightly different take on this.

    In I like skiing the important bit is the like. You're talking about something you enjoy, and not saying much about the skiing. You might like doing it, watching it on TV, or you might just like the idea of it, because of all the clothing and those fancy goggles you wear.

    In I like to ski you're saying something about what you enjoy, but you're also saying something about skiing, ie that it's an activity that you actually do. I like to ski is not appropriate if you just watch it on TV.

    In other words:
    I like skiing = I like skiing
    I like to ski = I like skiing + I ski

    Personally I could say that I like going to the theatre, although I haven't been in years. I still have an affection for it. I couldn't say that I like to go to the theatre because that would suggest that it is one of my current pastimes.
  12. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Of course not. And you explained what I meant with meticulous clarity. As you said, I don't think that "tendency" is important enough to affect our writing/speech.

    Yes, I was actually going to mention that. Normally, when someone asks you "what do you like doing?" or "What do you like to do?" (by the way, I agree that that sounds better), you don't answer with a complete sentence. That said, I would probably never say "to ski" on its own - always "skiing."

    That's right! :thumbsup:
  13. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Yes. You are right on target. Once again, context is a decisive factor! :)
  14. Porteño Member Emeritus

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    Personally I have always followed TheCandidate's original concept that the gerund is used for a general activity whereas the infinitive+to refers to a specific one.

    I like playing tennis. - General
    I like to play tennis on Sunday mornings. - Specific

    I am well aware that it is not a fixed rule and personal preference plays a big part in how one uses them, so the discussion becomes somewhat academic since opinions will divide in favour of one or the other and 'ne'er the twain shall meet'

    Now I think it's time to sleep on it, so Good Night!
  15. Cathy Rose Senior Member

    Northeast USA
    United States English
    Ahem. To get back to the original question: I want to point out to Candidate that, although both forms of the sentence are grammatically correct, it is awkward to mix them when writing a list of several activities. You would not want to say, "I like skiing, swimming, and to rock climb." You would say "I like skiing, swimming, and rock climbing" or "I like to ski, swim and rock climb."
  16. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Hi Cathy Rose,

    People are encouraged to attach new questions to an existing related thread. Therefore, an old thread will often be revived with a question that is related to, but not identical with, the original question. As I understand it, this is appropriate. That is what has happened here. The thread was started in 2005. Post #15 contains the more recent question.

    It took me a while to figure out that the threads with extraodinarily high numbers of viewings are likely to be threads that had been revived in this way. :)

    Edit: The recent postings under discussion have been made a separate thread by a moderator.
  17. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thanks cagey.
    You got here just before me :)
  18. Ksenya New Member

    ok, there is one thing about it which is not clear for me...How to deal with questions? Is it grammatically correct to say What books do you like reading instead of what books do you like to read? I'm not a native speaker but even for me the first variant is more than strange to the ear...
  19. Chillax New Member

    India - bengali & English
    Well,to me,there is a little difference between "I love fighting" and "I love to fight".
    When you say, "I love fighting",You mean,You love to fight with people and, at the same time, You love to see people fighting with each other.
    That means,using gerund makes things general for 'love','like' and 'hate',where as,using infinitive makes it specific.
    So,you can say you love drawing.
    But,You have to say you love to draw pictures of animals.
  20. Meiboombouwer Senior Member

    Örebrolän, Sweden
    French - Belgium
    Chillax, welcome to this forum,
    I think the question from Ksenya was about the best way to formulate a question with like/love/hate/prefer? gerund or infinitive?

    Ksenya, welcome to you too.
    I think that both are correct, subtle differences have been described earlier... (personally, like you, I would tend to use the second variant)
  21. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Welcome:). As has been said above, context is everything. I agree that there are some contexts where there is little difference (when you mean that you physically like the act participating yourself in the fighting). However, if you mean that you like the idea of fighting, or you like watching others fight then you could only say "I like fighting". "I like to fight" could only mean that you get pleasure from doing the fighting yourself - not such a small difference.
  22. horst.p. New Member

    the difference is more between british and american english.
    in american english it´s more common to use " like to play "
    in british english it is common to use certain verbs (e.g. like, love, hate prefer) with gerund "like -love-hate etc. playing
  23. keeley_h Senior Member

    Hi, everybody,

    A few days ago, panjandrum and owlman5 taught me that multiple words are valid in the forum's search window. After that I looked up some words by the window. It's so nice! Thanks, panjandrum and owlman5.

    Searching some words by the window, I found an interesting threads.

    I understand all the posts in the thread but don't understand the last two lines of Aupick's post # 11. The last two lines are as follows:

    Personally I could say that I like going to the theatre, although I haven't been in years. I still have an affection for it. I couldn't say that I like to go to the theatre because that would suggest that it is one of my current pastimes.

    Why would I like to go to the theatre suggest that it is one of my current pastimes whereas I like going to the theatre wouldn't?
  24. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Personally, I don't find any difference between I like going to the theatre and I like to go to the theatre. I don't make or recognize the distinction that Aupick does.
  25. wolfbm1

    wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Actually I also was a bit confused about "I like going to the theatre" and "I like to go to the theatre. OR "I like skiing" and "I like to ski".
    I conclude that there is no distinction between theese two expressions in American English but there is a distinction in British English. I think that Aupick explained the distinction in British English very nicely.
    I would like to add that in English handbooks written by British authors we are taught to use the Gerund after "like", "love" or "be keen on". Nothing is mentioned about using an infinitive after these verbs. Maybe to avoid a possible confusion. And when they occur you can be puzzled. But Aupick and Copyright put me on the right track.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
  26. dn88 Senior Member

    Because "I like going to the theatre." could suggest that you only like the idea of going to the theatre.

    "I like skiing." as a stand-alone sentence is ambiguous, "skiing" can act as a noun. You can like "skiing" as a sport without actually practicing it.

    Compare that to:

    I like playing basketball.
    I like to play basketball.

    Here we don't have so much room for misinterpretation. If someone only liked or enjoyed watching the sport, they would most likely say "I like basketball.".
  27. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Not really - I don't think this could be interpreted you like the idea of going to the theatre, but don't actually do so.
    I see your point, and it's a similar to mine above. However, in this instance I don't think that "I like skiing" is ambiguous - it means you like to do it.

    For some reason, I don't feel the same with "I like boxing" - here this is definitely ambiguous. Perhaps it's because boxing is a sport where it is much more likely that you might only enjoy it as a spectator sport rather than practising it.

    I think I'd say in summary -

    I like to xxx - unambiguously means that you personally like to practise the activity.

    I like xxxing - is potentially ambiguous depending on context and how likely it is that this is something one might enjoy in some passive sense.

    This previous type can be disambiguated by adding "the". ie "I like the skiing" means you like to watch it on the TV not necessarily doing it.
  28. dn88 Senior Member

    I know it's highly unlikely but still technically possible.
  29. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I don't think it's technically possible, as I understand those words.

    It would take quite a lot of explicit context to prevent my thinking that you meant that you enjoyed the activity of going to the theater. Something like:
    "I like going to the theater as an idea, but I don't actually want to do it"
    might work, but nothing short of that would.
  30. keeley_h Senior Member

    Thanks for your nice reply.
    OK. I see.

    But ..., I'm still wandering.
    I think in #11 Aupick says he could say 1 but couldn't say 2, right?

    1. I like going to the theatre, although I haven't been in years.
    2. I like to go to the theatre, although I haven't been in years.

    I think I understand all the posts, #1 to #29, but still can't feel 2 is odd or awkward. I feel it's good and has no problems.

    Why couldn't he say 2?
    How odd or awkward is 2?

    So sorry to ask the same question many times.
    If you don't like this post, please ignore it.
  31. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Although I think #1 is smoother to read or say, I don't have a problem with #2. I think it means the same as #1 and wouldn't be surprised to hear it. This is in my own brand of American English, of course.
  32. keeley_h Senior Member

    Thanks for your nice reply, Copyright!
    OK! I see!
    #2 isn't odd or awkward and has no problems.
    I got it.

    But why is #1 smoother to read or say?
    I think that's the point.
  33. dn88 Senior Member

    I know that there's little to no point in discussing it further but I just want to say that the syntax of "I like going to the theater" allows for such an interpretation. If we assume that "going to the theater" is an idea, a concept or an activity you don't actually practice, then "I like going to the theater" may express that. But now I see that I should have worded my first post in this thread differently, I apologize for the confusion I've caused.

    According to Aupick's explanation, #2 may seem a bit self-contradictory because "I like to go to the theatre" usually implies a habitual activity (I go to the theatre from time to time), while "although I haven't been in years" suggests that it's been ages since the last time you went to the theatre.
  34. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Like To Go are three short words with hard consonants -- K T G. So there's a brief stop to each one of them, making your journey like walking on a flagstone path: you have to purposefully step on each flagstone.

    Like Going eliminates that middle step (to) and makes for a paved path (continuing this awkward analogy) that you can stroll along without having to look at your feet. :)
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2010
  35. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    I don't think you created confusion - I understood what you meant, just don't completely agree.

    As a bald statement "I like going to the theatre" means you like doing that activity. It doesn't mean you like the idea of them. The only way for this to be the case is to add a lot more context.

    However, this is no different from other sorts of noun. If I say "I like cats" then I personally like the animals - not the idea of them. However, that doesn't stop me implying "the idea of cats" if I say "I like cats as a way to prevent loneliness in the elderly - although I can't stand them myself".
  36. keeley_h Senior Member

    Thanks for your nice reply.
    OK! I see!

  37. lqdcrct New Member

    Wow... The two usages seem SO different to me. For me, a gerund reads as a noun when placed after like, dislike, etc. whereas "to" do anything reads as any other verb. The first usage is the objective concept and the second usage is the subjective experience.

    Example #1:
    "I like skiing" = I like a sport (in general).
    "I like to ski" = I like doing the sport (myself).

    1. You wouldn't say that you liked "to ski" if you only liked it from a distance (as watching other people doing it or it existing but not in your life). Obviously, liking "to ski" means that you like it on a relatively intimate level.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2010
  38. lqdcrct New Member

    I think it's strange that you are including your own biases as a valid measure of ambiguity. "Boxing" and "skiing" are grammatically equal and thus their ambiguity should also be equal. Personally, I would rather box than ski - and I'm a girl (not that my sex should actually matter). I HATE the cold and heights and scary lifts and the possibility of being buried alive under an avalanche, but a black eye and a bloody nose? OK.
  39. Wanfife Member

    Madrid, Spain
    English (Scotland)
    I think the grammar book rule is OK, i.e. that gerunds go with general cases and infinitives with specific cases, but you have to be careful about what is a general case and what is a specific one.

    - I like swimming (General)
    - I like swimming in the mornings (This is still a general statement, although it might appear to be a specific one)

    A specific statement is in one instance only:

    - I'd prefer to go to X restaurant tomorrow because I'm fed up of Y,
    but in general I prefer going to Y.

    When it's a specific case we tend to say " I would like/love/prefer/...", and this is followed by the infinitive.
  40. ennistoga New Member

    American English
    One distinction not made in this thread is the distinction between a current activity and a general fact.

    In AE, if I ask...

    "Do you like to play basketball?"

    ...it means that I do not know whether or not you play basketball and I want to find out if you do.

    But if I ask...

    "Do you like playing basketball?"

    ...it means I know that you play for a team or at a gym or a park and I want to know if you enjoy playing there. This sentence would never occur as the beginning of a conversation. You would need a context in which where and/or with whom you play is established. Or you would have to say, "Do you like playing basketball with Tom?"

    But that is only for questions. It seems that sentences are a little more flexible.

    However, I personally would never interpret "I like fighting." as "I like to watch people fight." If you are talking about fights in general, you would say "I like fights." or "I like to watch/watching fights." If you are talking about a sport, then you would say "I like boxing." "I like karate." "I like wrestling." "I like ultimate fighting." etc.

    "I like skiing." Means "I like the sport." It probably means you ski yourself, but maybe not. The noun for the sport is "skiing." Like "boxing," "jogging," "swimming," "running," "fencing," etc. Only "I like to ski." is unambiguous. But if there is another name for the sport, e.g. "basketball", "football," then it is pretty clear. "I like playing..." means you play yourself. "I like basketball.", however, is ambiguous.
  41. frederic fatoux New Member


    Could we say that 'I like + ing' equals 'I like + the noun' (for example, I like skiing = I like ski) while 'I like to ski' cannot refer to a generic noun ? If such is the case, it means that there is a real difference between the two forms and the difference has to do with the general/specific nature of the action. Regardless the context.

    Thank you for your answer
  42. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England

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