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What is the difference between the following:

Things started to work again.

Things started working again.

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In many cases — and this is one of them — there is no difference between start with an Equi (PDF) infinitive complement clause to work again in

Things started to work again.

and start with an Equi gerund complement clause working again in

Things started working again.

Some people sometimes might use this distinction in form to signal a distinction in intention or use, but only under special circumstances. Other people might ignore it.

One distinction it might be used to signal is that between continuous and intermittent. If I were describing recovery in a town after an electricity blackout, I might use Things started working again if there was sporadic recovery and Things started to work again if the recovery were genuine.

But that's really just me. In other cases it's clearer.

  • He started to work again.
  • He started working again.

Either one might be used for an artist/author/etc. who had endured a dry spell and gotten past it. But it's the second one I'd use to imply that he has a new job.

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In this case, there is no difference (unless you want to do some heavy hair-splitting), but you have to be careful. A standard counterexample is, “He stopped to eat.” versus “He stopped eating.”.

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Think about this:

I'm going to shop.

I'm going shopping.

In term of the information communicated, they are equal.

However, there is a tangible difference in attitude and focus.

It's like:

I love to ski.

I love skiing.

Generally, the gerund form of the verb highlights the activity as a process, something in progress. This is why some refer to the "progressive" rather than the "continuous" form.

In highlighting the activity as an ongoing process, we may be communicating an emotional attitude.

Think of the McDonald's slogan:

I'm loving it.

Now, contrast that with a possible, and probably more grammatically correct:

I love it.

As living beings - Life is for (the) Living - we have a special emotional connection to the gerund form of the verb that is simply not present in the declarative infinitive.

To be is certainly not the same as being.

That is the living English language.

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In this case, there is no difference because you can only start a process that then continues. So the progressive aspect of "working" is redundant, being already provided by "started".

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And if we say: Things started failing again. Or Things started to fail again. – user17857 Feb 7 '12 at 2:17
Again, same thing. The only difference between "to fail" and "failing" in this context is that "failing" is progressive. But "starting" already indicates a continuing process -- that's the only thing that can start. – David Schwartz Feb 7 '12 at 2:30
Gotcha. I agree that technically there's an element of redundancy in "start xxx-ing". But we use that construction so often you couldn't even say there's a difference between OP' two versions based on the fact that some people might remark on the redundancy. (I suspect you yourself only noticed it because you're being asked to consider whether there might be some slight difference! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '12 at 22:37
@FumbleFingers Exactly. The redundancy is in no sense bad, one could see it just as much as an agreement. And you are correct, I only noticed it because I looked closely at the two construction. The two constructions are interchangeable, IMO. – David Schwartz Feb 7 '12 at 23:46
Yes, it is redundant to the extent that it is not required. However, if the focus to highlight the ensuing process, then the additional information is not a redundancy, but rather a nuance. – Jack Robbin Feb 11 '12 at 4:00

protected by tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 19:51

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