English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

A sentence from my reference book is

He can't adapt himself to being free again.

Why is being used instead of be? Isn't verb form and not verb + ing form used after to?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Verbs, when combined with -ing, form nouns. For example:

Jogging is good for health. Vitamins are good for health.

Both jogging and vitamins are nouns.

Consider this sentence, in which environment is a noun:

Some insects are able to adapt themselves to new environments.

In the sentence in the question, "being free again" is a noun phrase. Its use as a noun may be clearer in this sentence:

Being free again felt wonderful.

The to+verb form, or the infinitive form of the verb, is not the one being used in the example. In the sentence in the example, to is used not as part of an infinitive but as a preposition. You would be answering the question: What can't he adapt himself to?

share|improve this answer
Oh, a noun phrase! – Nano HE Jan 7 '11 at 1:08

Very simple answer - always use the -ing form and never an infinitive (e.g. - to be) after a preposition. Here to is a preposition. That's really all there is to it. Apart from working out when to is a preposition and when it's part of the infinitive. Good luck.

share|improve this answer

There are two issues here. First, when you use the verb itself after to, you are referring to sentences like

He wanted to eat chocolate,

in which to and eat are grouped. However in the example sentence, it is adapt and to that are grouped.

Second, in the example, being should be used and not be to mean that he already is living in the state of freedom. The sentence

He can't adapt himself to be free

is also valid but has another meaning - he cannot change himself so that he can be free. In this case, to be free should be seen as a phrase.

share|improve this answer
Your last sentence (beginning 'Second') makes no sense to me at all. – Colin Fine Jan 6 '11 at 17:21
Grouped thinking ! Thank you. – Nano HE Jan 7 '11 at 1:08
Thanks – Colin Fine Mar 3 '11 at 17:51

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.