Gerunds and infinitives can be confusing!

Hello colleagues, I'm teaching a high intermediate class right now. It's not surprising that a lot of the texts we are reading in class feature gerunds and infinitives.My approach to teaching grammar at this level is to teach the grammar contextually in order to better understand the texts we are reading.

I've been thinking about ways to present these aspects of grammar. Most of what I have found teaches both gerunds and infinitives at the same time and explains that some verbs are followed by gerunds while other verbs are followed by infinitives. Some verbs can be followed by either. I'm thinking that presenting these forms in this way initially would make it hard for learners to keep the information straight; therefore, I would rather teach them separately first. I'm wondering if anyone can recommend some useful resources for presenting these grammatical concepts to learners. II would be most appreciative!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Susan, I totally agree that “presenting these forms in this way initially would make it hard for learners to keep the information straight.” Would it help to have students just repeat the patters below, and then substitute other verbs that fit the pattern? This site lists a few samples, but there are many:​ 

  1. Infinitive and gerund: like, begin, continue, forget, love, prefer, et…
  2. Infinitive (Subjects and verb tenses will vary.): want, would like, start, refuse, promise, seem, remember, refuse, expect, agree, ask, try, etc..
  3. Gerund: enjoy, admit, practice, feel like, plan on, etc…

Practice for Students Interested in Health Occupations

Students would start by repeating the patterns with verbs that match each one. Once they practice and learn how specific lists of verbs work, then they could be given a list that mixes the verbs to practice making new sentences with the correct pattern (s) for each verb. From there, just keep adding verbs for each pattern in the same way, using the direct method: I do it and you listen and observe; I do it and you help me; you do it and I help you; you do it. I can imagine the practice of each pattern, one at a time, could be followed by really fun and simple sentences using Charades or other games and even have student collaborate of being the inspectors/overseers for each type of verb. When a reasonable list of verbs is learned, I would then change the occupations that the sentences reflect.



________ ing

Sentence Practice


   help patients.

   helping patients.

Sara likes to help/helping patients


   talk to patients.

   talking to doctors.

That nurse doesn't’ like to talk/talking to patients.


   calculate dosages.

   calculating dosages.



   work with kids.

   working with kids



   feed patients.

   feeding patients.



   give massages

   giving massages





Most people want to be there with their families.




I enjoy giving massages to patients.

As you noted, one pattern at a time with fun activities around the practice! Leecy

Thanks, Leecy! I have started introducing gerunds by having students practice conversations using the word enjoy: Do you enjoy playing soccer? Do you enjoy singing? Do you enjoy cooking? Which do you enjoy most playing cards, playing computer games or playing board games? What do you enjoy reading in your language? in English?

I first showed the students these questions and asked them if they could tell me what was the same in each question. They easily noted that the word enjoy was repeated in each question. They also noticed the -ing form in each question. I explained that the -ing form of a word is sometimes used as a noun.

Later in class, we examined the text we were reading, which was a transcript of a video we had watched on the topic of Segregation and Jim Crow Laws, for the -ing form. There were several examples of gerunds in the role of subject, direct object and object of the preposition -- though I didn't explain all those grammatical details. My goal was to help these high intermediate/advanced students begin to recognize that when they see the -ing form, it is often NOT a verb.

This was my introduction to this particular component of grammar. I'm not 100% sure what to do next-- especially since next week is our last week before the holiday break, but I'll probably give them additional conversation practice using one or more of the verbs that require a gerund.

Comments welcome!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Susan, I love deductive reasoning to help students learn for themselves instead of having us always explain things to them. 

I'm not sure that I would ask them to grasp the meaning of gerunds as nouns at this point since that adds another dimension to the goal. Introducing them to gerunds and subjects when the goal of the activity appeared to be to have/having them learn which verbs use infinitives and which use gerunds or both might be distracting. However, if it worked and they got it, no one can argue with success! I certainly don't :)

Since they are going on vacation, you might ask to have an TO-ING vacation and come back with lots of gerund and infinitive expressions used in different ways (subjects, objects of verbs and prepositions). Having them illustrate their sentences would even be better, or, if they have cameras, bring photos to share. Of course, they could then write about the whole experience. 

I know that there are many sites that help students create digital booklets, but I often used Word tables to have students create picture dictionaries for themselves, using one column for the image (ING or TO) and the other for definitions or sentences. They loved doing that.

The reason I focused on an occupation in my example is that so often, our students have very specific career interests that might focus their attention more, but we all like to talk about ourselves, especially after a vacation! 

I know that there are other dynamite teachers here like you, Susan,  that face the same or similar grammar issues. Let's talk. I want to learn more! Leecy

Hi Susan,

I agree with you that gerunds can be a challenge for students and teaching them with infinitives can be confusing.

I’ve found some common mistakes like these that students make with gerunds:

      Run is good exercise.

     I finished read that book.

     He made some money by work hard.

     Eating in restaurants are expensive.

     They enjoyed to do their work

To address these and similar gerund problems, I’ve developed some exercises that I’d be happy to share here.  Since the complete exercises are a few pages long, I’ve made a brief example of them on this link:

If you’d like to see the complete set of exercises and try them out with your students, you can also find three handouts at that link.

About the exercises, in brief:

The first handout involves inductive exercises to introduce gerunds to students. 

In the second handout, I have some listening and writing exercises to help students learn when to use a gerund and when to use an infinitive.   One purpose of the listening exercise is to internalize what sounds right.

Finally, the third handout has exercises for more advanced students who know what gerunds are.  These will help them understand how to use them as subjects of sentences and to contrast gerunds and participles

I hope these help.

David Kehe


Hello David, I so appreciate your inductive approach to teaching grammar. I actually used a couple of these exercises with my class this week, and one thing that became clear to me is that at least a couple of learners do not yet fully comprehend what a noun is. When you led a discussion in our community back in April you offered suggestions on what metalanguage, e.g., grammar words such as noun, verb, adjective, that we may need or want to teach. Some members may want to check out that wonderfully rich thread.

This class has now ended for the holiday break. And I'm now rethinking my approach because I do want to be sure learners can identify parts of speech.

Comments are welcome from one and all!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Hi Susan, David Kehe, and others

Years ago, when I first taught grammar, I discovered that textbook definitions of parts of speech were at best rough indicators and at worst mistaken rules. English language textbooks often described verbs, for example, as "action" words; for example, "shake" in the sentence "Let's shake hands." A handshake is an action, too, but that word is a noun, so the definition is inadequate. The definition of a noun as a person, place, thing, or idea doesn't help explain why "handshake" is a noun either. David Kehe, I too like your inductive approach, where students discover the rules from examples.  It would be helpful, however, for teachers to have some good rules from which to build their examples.

Here's a rule (or perhaps a reliable clue) that I have induced over the years for identifying nouns..

  • Memorize/recognize the words we call determiners. In a sentence. a determiner signals that a noun will (not always immediately) follow.  Here's a list of English determiners .

What other good rules or reliable clues have teachers of grammar -- and their students -- induced?


David J. Rosen


Thank you, David Rosen, for this helpful tip that can be passed along to learners. As you note, nouns do not always follow determiners since it's common for adjectives to come in between the determiner and the noun, e.g., She hosted a wonderful holiday party. So, we would need to help learners understand this common occurrence as well.

Members who are interested in some research-based recommendations for teaching grammar may like to check out this resource from the LINCS Collection, Teaching Grammar to Adult English Language Learners: Focus on Form by Amber Gallup Rodriguez (2009).

You are invited to share your approaches to teaching grammar as well as what stands out to you from Rodriguez's article.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

It sounds like we have some similar students who don’t know what nouns are, Susan.  One of my students who had immigrated here after graduating from a college in Mexico now has a good job as a counselor.   She wants to improve her writing in order to be promoted.  Even though she’s already a pretty good writer, she still struggles with editing.  And a few weeks ago, I discovered one obstacle that has prevented her from editing her mistakes (or even finding them with my hints) was that she couldn’t identify nouns, verbs and subjects.  So I gave her some inductive exercises.  Then next day, she came to class and said, “Finally I now understand what nouns, subjects and verbs are!”  And she said it only took 30 minutes.

If you’d like to see those exercises and try them out with your students, here is a link:

David Kehe