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A transcript of a recent speech by Barack Obama contains the following sentence:

Boston police, firefighters, and first responders as well as the National Guard responded heroically, and continue to do so as we speak.

The usage of continue in this case contrasts what I have learned about the verb to stop, as in

We stopped to let the pedestrians pass the crosswalk, so the car did not move.

We stopped letting the pedestrians pass the crosswalk, so I accelerated.

I suppose that these three examples are grammatically correct. People like me, who learned English as a second language, could misunderstand Obama's usage of continue as

[...] and continue (with doing something) in order to do so

I do not believe this is the actual intention. I conclude that this to do vs. doing issue is not a general pattern, but rather a restricted phenomenon. So my questions are:

  1. Is it correct that the aforementioned phenomenon is only relevant for a few verbs? If yes, could somebody provide a list of these verbs?

  2. Is it helpful, to regard the verb to stop as a homonym, where one version of to stop refers to a process of ceasing movement, while the other version is an auxiliary verb followed by a gerund?

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The second sentence means and they continue to respond heroically at this moment while we speak –  mplungjan Apr 18 '13 at 17:19

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There are a lot of different kinds of infinitive. The infinitive to smoke in

  • He stopped to smoke.

(as Colin and Fluffy have already pointed out) is a Purpose infinitive, a kind of adverbial clause answering Why?, which one may introduce with in order to, or move to the front of the sentence,

  • He stopped in order to smoke.
  • In order to smoke, he stopped.

in order to distinguish it from more common types of postverbal infinitive, like the to smoke in

  • He began/started to smoke.

which is an infinitive object complement clause, a kind of noun clause that is the direct object of began or start, representing the activity (or when generic, the habitual activity) that the subject began or started.

Begin and start are also alike in that they can take infinitive complements, like the sentence above, as well as gerund complements, like the one below

  • He began/started smoking.

which is synonymous with the second sentence.

However, stop, unlike begin and start, does not allow an infinitive complement, though it does allow a gerund. Thus, any infinitive following stop can't be an infinitive complement clause, and the next likely reading is as a purpose infinitive clause.

Both are common uses for stop, and this little curlicue helps distinguish them. English, and every language, like anything alive, is full of baroque details like this.

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What the President was stating was that they continued acting heroically.

When he said

...and continue to do so...

he meant that they were still acting heroically. To do so in this case doesn't refer to in order to do so. It refers to acting heroically.

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Continue may take to do or doing. Stop (in this sense) may only take doing, as stop to do means something different, as you say.

Sorry, that's just the way English is.

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English does not have a linear aspect, which indicates a start at a particular moment in the past and continuing through the present. As a result, President Obama had to express this notion with two clauses,

They responded (past)

and

they continue to do so (continuing).

There's no "stop" implied in the past. Consider,

He adored her.

Does he adore her still? Or did he stop? The sentence, by itself, does not say.

If the President wished to place the events entirely in the past, he might have used the past perfect, saying,

They had responded heroically.


By the way, I wonder if your example sentences might be clearer as

We stopped driving to let the pedestrians pass the crosswalk, so the car did not move.

We stopped letting the pedestrians pass the crosswalk, so I accelerated.

In the first sentence, you are stopping the forward motion of the car. In the second sentence, you are stopping the permission you had been granting.

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This page has a list of verbs which follow either the verb+gerund or verb+infinitive pattern.

About question one, you will see in the list which is provided, which verbs can normally be followed by either do or doing without much change in meaning. Continue is one of them. It does not matter much if you say: "I continued reading" or "I continued to read". In both cases it would mean that you read.

About question two, it is easiest to remember that "stop" simply belongs to the list of verbs, which are used with gerund after them. We say "I stopped reading." That means that there was no more reading after that, just like "I finished writing" would mean that I was done with it and there was no more writing going on.

What you seem to find confusing is the structure "stop + infinitive". Actually, it has nothing to do with "stop" and whether there is a gerund or infinitive after it.

The sentence "I stopped to read" is the short version of "I stopped in order to read." For example, "I stopped walking in order to read what was written on the poster". It is similar to "I went to the shop to buy some bread", which will be the same as "I went to the shop in order to buy some bread."

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