TOEFL IBT – Gerunds & Infinitives

Grammar is an important part to master in order to improve your TOEFL score. Remember, Preparation is the key to succeed !

Gerunds and infinitives are both forms of verbs that do not act like verbs. Gerunds act as nouns in a sentence, and infinitives can act as almost any part of speech. Knowing what part of speech a gerund or infinitive is can affect the rest of the sentence

In the sentences below, the word being is a gerund. Therefore, it acts as a noun. This helps us know to use the possessive pronoun my as opposed to the object pronoun me. Possessive pronouns, NOT object pronouns, are used before a noun.

  • My being late was inexcusable.
  • Me being late was inexcusable.

However, it is important to know when to use an infinitive as opposed to a gerund, as they are not always interchangeable and can cause a change in meaning.

  • She remembered locking the house. (She remembered the act of locking the house)
  • She remembered to lock the house. (She remembered to lock the house, and did it)

However, there are some instances where you can use either one or the other.

  • To learn is important. (infinitive; more philosophical meaning)
  • Learning is important. (gerund; more colloquial meaning)
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Gerunds

A gerund is a verb in its present participle form (-ing form) that acts as a noun in a sentence. It names an activity, and almost any verb can be made into a gerund. It can be used as the subject, object, or complement of a sentence.

Examples

As a subject:

  • Reading is a hobby of mine. (Could also say: To read is a hobby of mine)
  • Shoveling is not my favorite part about winter. (Could NOT say: To shovel is not my favorite part about winter)
  • Commuting this morning took longer than usual. (Could NOT say: To commute this morning took longer than usual)

Object after the verb:

  • He likes playing guitar. (He likes what? Playing guitar)
  • She prefers biking home in the summer. (She prefers what? Biking home in the summer)
  • We think choosing a new intern would benefit us. (We think what? Choosing a new intern would benefit us)

Object after the preposition:

  • They look forward to interviewing you next week. (They look forward to what? Interviewing you next week)
  • He is in charge of organizing the fundraiser. (He is in charge of what? Organizing the fundraiser)
  • I’m used to taking a nap before class. (I’m used to what? Taking a nap before class)

Complement:

  • Her favorite pastime is reading. (Her favorite pastime is what? Reading)
  • The most important thing is learning from your mistakes. (The most important thing is what? Learning from your mistakes)
  • What I want is slipping away from me. (What I want is what? Slipping away from me)

Tips:

  • The same spelling rules that apply to the present tense apply to forming gerunds.
  • Do not mix up infinitives with prepositional phrases!
    • I want to go to the movies. (to go is an infinitive)
    • I want to go to the movies. (to the movies is a prepositional phrase)
  • Remember: -ing form of verb = gerund.

Infinitives

Infinitives are not verbs, meaning you cannot add a verb ending to them (-s, -es, -ed, -ing)! An infinitive begins with to, followed by the base form of the verb (ex. to drive, to eat, to cough). Infinitives most commonly have the function of nouns (subjects or objects), adjectives, or adverbs.

Examples

As a subject:

  • To swim is a hobby of mine. (Could also say: Swimming is a hobby of mine)
  • To eat is all I want right now. (Could also say: Eating is all I want right now)
  • To bike through the mountains is peaceful. (Could also say: Biking through the mountains is peaceful)

As an object:

  • Everyone wanted to leave. (Everyone wanted what? To leave)
  • They began to write. (They began what? To write)
  • I started to drive. (I started what? To drive)

As an adjective:

  • This party is the place to be. (tells us which place)
  • I have some shirts to wash. (tells us which shirts)
  • She is the singer to watch. (tells us which singer)

As an adverb:

  • We must eat to survive. (We must eat in order to survive)
  • We must study hard to graduate. (We must study hard in order to graduate)
  • To finish this math problem, you divide by 5. (In order to finish this math problem, you divide by 5)

Sometimes, we will just use the base form of the verb (infinitive minus to) in a sentence. This occurs with what we call causative verbs.

  • Let it be.
  • Let it to be.

To learn about causative verbs, go visit our Phrasal Verbs & Causative Verbs study sheet!

Split Infinitives: Yay or Nay?

You may have heard the famous phrase, “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” You may have also heard that the the general rule is to avoid “split infinitives” (putting a word between the to and the verb). In some cases, such as this one, it is acceptable to split the infinitive because it does not give the same effect any other way (“to go boldly”? “boldly to go”?). However, if you are writing a formal composition such as a thesis or dissertation, you would not want to split infinitives. Long story short: before splitting an infinitive, consider your audience and the context.

Tip:

  • Remember: to + verb = infinitive.
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