Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This is what I read in an answer to a previous question:

Verbs Followed by Either Gerund or Infinitive

Sometimes the meaning changes according to the verb used.

  • <…>
  • (dis)like
  • <…>

I’d like to ask a more specific question: What is that change in the case of (dis)like, exactly? What is the difference between, say, I like being married and (?) I like to be married, I like to eat paper and I like eating paper?

share|improve this question
    
Just out of curiosity, what is "sth"? –  Adam Paynter Apr 17 '11 at 22:37
1  
@AdamPaynter: It’s an abbreviation for something commonly used in dictionaries. However, a Google Search result is telling me that most native speakers would probably not know the abbreviation, so I am changing it to the full word in the title. Thanks for drawing my attention to it! –  user3286 Apr 17 '11 at 23:06
    
Thank you for the clarification! :) Choosing "sth" to abbreviate "something" doesn't seem entirely intuitive, but it works. –  Adam Paynter Apr 17 '11 at 23:32

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

OK, first let's take a look at what some grammar books say, then try to make it comprehensible with some examples:

CGEL says:

The infinitival is more associated with change, the gerund-participle with actuality. Thus someone who has recently turned forty or got married might say "I like being forty" or "I like being married". An infinitival would be strange here, suggesting repeated changes from not being forty or married to being forty or married. In this case the meaning is close to that of "enjoy", which only allows gerund-participles.

Quirk et al. say:

With the verbs which take both constructions the bias of the infinitive towards ‘potentiality’ tends to favour its use in hypothetical and nonfactual contexts; on the other hand, the participial construction is favoured when the speaker is referring to something which definitely happens or has happened.

More simply (if less precisely) the gerund-participle ("-ing" form) is used when the pleasure is derived from the action itself, whereas the infinitive ("to" form) is used when the preference is being expressed for choosing to perform the action, or the idea of the action, as distinct from the action itself.

Quirk gives the following examples:

(OK:) Would you like to see my stamp collection?

(Very odd:) Would you like ?*seeing my stamp collection?

(Questionable:) Brian loathed ?to live in the country.

(OK:) Brian loathed living in the country.

The question "Would you like seeing my stamp collection" is odd, because presumably the person being asked hasn't seen it, and doesn't know whether they'll enjoy the experience—but asking "...like to see..." is asking whether they'd appreciate the opportunity to do so—the idea of doing so. By contrast, "living in the country" is preferable because it is the experience of life in the country that Brian finds objectionable.

As for CGEL's samples: the contention is that it's preferable to say "I like being married" and "I like being forty", except in certain (very odd) circumstances. This is because the use of the infinitive implies that there is a choice going on—whereas, once you're forty, you keep being forty (well, for the next year, anyway), and similarly you tend to keep being married (divorce takes a long time!)

That said, someone like Elizabeth Taylor might well have said "I like to be married", given that she did it lots of times...

Giving another example: I might say "I like to run every morning", which means roughly "It makes me happy to choose to organise my life in this way". But saying "I enjoy running every morning" implies that it's the actual running itself that gives me the pleasure.

share|improve this answer
    
I think she would like to GET married rather than to BE married, no? Or are they too similar to bother –  mplungjan Apr 17 '11 at 19:01
    
@mplungjan: I definitely mean "I like to be married", but I'm only using it to show the contrast with "I like being married" :). I'm trying to get across the concept that, although it would be very unusual, it could be used, perhaps in the sense of "I like to be married to someone before I start sleeping with them" (indeed Ms Taylor expressed a sentiment not totally dissimilar to that, if the Wikipedia article I linked to above is to be believed...). –  psmears Apr 17 '11 at 19:09
    
There might be a connection with how these constructions are used with other verbs, similar in meaning but with only one possible construction: I want to go, I enjoy going... not sure how that would work. "To" as used with the infinitive does come from a preposition of purpose... –  Cerberus Apr 17 '11 at 19:18
    
@Cerberus: You're right, it does correspond to how the two are used with other verbs (that can only take one or the other)... I'm sure there are exceptions, but I can't think of any :) –  psmears Apr 22 '11 at 7:40

Well, I'm not too sure exactly what you mean, but here's my take:

I would never say

I like to be married.

Instead I would say

I like being married.

(If my wife were present I would of course switch from "like" to "love" in a heartbeat.) Saying "I like to be married" just sounds wrong, although I don't think it's grammatically off-base.

Now, if you'll forgive my presumption, I've changed "paper" to "apples" in the next example, since I really gave up on paper as a comestible in about — oh, I don't know — the second grade.

I like to eat apples.

This means apples are a food I enjoy.

I like eating apples.

This can mean apples are a food I enjoy, or it can also mean I like the process of actually eating the apples. Perhaps I make a little ritual out of it, or strange beautiful women come up to me out of nowhere while I'm chomping the little suckers, or I feel a little boost of energy in my thinking parts. Whatever.

share|improve this answer
    
I like to be married is indeed odd; perhaps I like to be on time makes a better example: this would mean (roughly) I enjoy being, and aim to be, a punctual person in general; I like being on time, though the basic meaning is the same, has the emphasis slightly more towards I enjoy turning up on time, each time it happens. –  psmears Apr 17 '11 at 18:07
    
@psmears: Could it be that the infinitive can have a sense of a definite future plan, whereas the gerund cannot? I'd like to go inside now. Both can mean liking the action in general, but then the infinitive has more of a sense of habit, whereas the gerund is rather the general concept of doing something. I like to fish at the lake [on Sundays]. v. I like fishing at the lake [rather than at sea]. Only the gerund can be used with an enduring situation that is going on now. I like living here. –  Cerberus Apr 17 '11 at 18:21
    
@Cerberus: To me using the infinitive in I'd like to go inside now is because of the fact that going inside is just a plan, rather than fact (rather than being to do with definiteness one way or the other). But otherwise I agree with what you say; see my answer for yet another explanation :-) –  psmears Apr 17 '11 at 19:05

I'm not a native speaker. However, I feel I must have a say.

I like doing is more like I enjoy doing

whereas

I like to do is more like I prefer to do.

share|improve this answer

I like being married

is correct if you like the state of marriage.

I like to be married

sounds wrong.

However

I'd like to be married

is correct if you are not married and would like to try it.

As someone else said:

I like to eat <....> is the food you enjoy, and I like eating <....> you enjoy the process of eating

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Mar 23 at 15:19

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?