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

"Heard me [infinitive]" vs. "heard me [present participle]"

    1. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me talk about it.
    2. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me talking about it.
    1. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me condemn it.
    2. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me condemning it.

Which one of the above sentences are incorrect and why?

share|improve this question
With verbs of perception, bot gerund and infinitive can be used. There us very little difference in meaning, if any. – Cerberus Jan 4 '13 at 17:09
@Cerberus Thank you. Would you mind telling me the little difference in meaning of the above sentences? – Bright Polyglot Jan 4 '13 at 17:13
Please incorporate the title into the question body and restate your question clearly. – coleopterist Jan 4 '13 at 17:20
@BrightPolyglot: The difference is too small to analyse, and there may not be any semantic difference at all. If any, it must be pragmatic. See Lawler's answer. – Cerberus Jan 4 '13 at 18:45
up vote 12 down vote accepted

None of them are incorrect.

English sense verbs, unlike most complement-taking verbs,
can take either gerund or infinitive complements.

  • I saw/heard him leave/leaving.

This is most common with long-distance senses, of course;
-- She smelled him leaving is a fairly unlikely (though not ungrammatical) thing to say.

It may be (and undoubtedly some people interpret it this way, though others don't)

  • I heard him leaving.

means something like (and may be a variant of)

  • I heard him while he was (in the act of) leaving.


  • I heard him leave.

means something like

  • I heard the noise produced by his leaving.

Not a whole lot of difference here, and for all intensive purposes they're synonymous.

share|improve this answer
Yeah the difference is almost imperceptible, and I couldn't pinpoint it. The pragmatic difference between I heard him leave and I heard his leaving, however, is clear. – Cerberus Jan 4 '13 at 18:44
Ah, but if we're going to subject this one to intensive analysis, perhaps we should consider the fact that with some constructions there's still another possibility - "I heard his breathing". Which seems perfectly reasonable to me, but unlike the him breathe/breathing versions, it doesn't work so well with saw. – FumbleFingers Jan 4 '13 at 19:17
But that's a noun, not a gerund. I heard his labored reading of the book, but not *I heard his reading the book with difficulty. – John Lawler Jan 4 '13 at 19:48
Given the right context, there is also the difference that the gerund can refer to the subject of the inflected verb, rather than the object: “He was trying to hide in the doorway, but I saw him craning my neck out far as I could”. This is not possible with an infinitive. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 16 '13 at 19:13
Great jokes from little ... – Edwin Ashworth Jun 25 '15 at 11:28

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.