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I often see constructions like this one:

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

It seems a little strange to me. In my mind it would look better using the infinitive form "to hear". I don't know if it has something with the verbals... Anyway, what I want to know is which form is correct and why?

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This is a good question. Non-native speakers are often tripped up by the fact that to is both the infinitive marker and a regular preposition, but only in the latter case can it be followed by a participle. – JSBձոգչ Mar 31 '11 at 14:48
up vote 17 down vote accepted

This is not an infinitive. "Hearing from you soon" is a gerund, which functions as a noun.

I look forward to [hearing from you soon].

is the same kind of construction as

I look forward to [my vacation].

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...or, to get rid of the confounding 'to', "I await hearing from you soon." – Mitch Mar 31 '11 at 16:11
+1! Although I do prefer I am looking forward to in some situations. For no real reason! – Lee Kowalkowski Mar 31 '11 at 20:41

If it were an infinitive, you'd be correct - it would have to be "to hear." But in this sentence, to isn't functioning as part of an infinitive, but simply as a preposition. That has to be followed by a noun or a nominal phrase, and "hearing" is a noun.

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Grammatically speaking, a thing being looked forward to (hearing in this case) should be a noun. Parse it here as the experience of hearing if that makes any more sense to you.

But even though it's a stock phrase in business letters, it is a somewhat odd choice of words for its normal context, where invariably the anticipated event will be reading, rather than hearing.

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Two things: 1. "hearing" is a noun in this case (a gerund). 2. It's a set-phrase, that is, you "hear from someone" when you receive communication from them, no matter if you used your ears or not. Presumably this goes back before the rise of written communication. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Mar 31 '11 at 15:59
1. Well that's what I thought I said - I just thought that adding the actual word gerund was an unnecessary detail. 2. Maybe hear from does indeed predate writing - but it's still a bit odd. Like a blind person saying "Nice to see you" (which they do all the time, obviously). – FumbleFingers Mar 31 '11 at 17:48

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