Is it possible to use gerund after the verb "promise"? For example, in the sentence "He promised cleaning the window. I'd prefer to say: He promised to clean the window. But today I was told that this verb can also be followed by gerund in the meaning of "suggest". It sounds strange to me.

Could you clarify this point?

Thank you.

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    The commercial for the window cleaning solution promised brightening, but it didn't work.
    – Jim
    Aug 26, 2014 at 4:31
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    As @Jim notes, you can use promise with a gerund as the object—but the gerund is in that case not really a gerund at all, but a verbal noun. I have personally never come across promise used with an actual gerund as its verbal complement. Of course, a present participle (which also has the same form as a gerund) can sometimes be used as an adjective complement in sentences like, “The weather promised improving”, though this is quite archaic: things usually only promise well or ill, or in the case of the weather, perhaps also fair. Aug 27, 2014 at 13:44
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    Agreed. It seems to be the same kind of nominalization as This needs doing or This room wants brightening up. Can't be done with a real clause (objects are ungrammatical, for instance), but can take articles, which is a sure sign of nouniness. Dec 25, 2014 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


A gerund after "promise"? Sure; no problem. "He promised cleaning the fish would be easy."

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    :-) Of course that gerund is the subject of the complement clause, not the object of promise. But that's what they asked for. Feb 25, 2015 at 16:40

As far as I know, the verb 'promise' can only be used in three ways.

1) with a noun: He promised me a present next time he went to America

2) with an optional 'that' followed by a clause: They promised (that) they would never forget what had happened.

3) with a full infinitive: She promised to take me to the doctor's.

I have never seen 'promise' with a gerund and it would seem strange to me.

  • Jonah, did you see Jim's comment below the question? Did his usage in that example seem strange to you?
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 26, 2014 at 16:34
  • Yes, it did seem strange, I wasn't even exactly sure what the sentence meant. Aug 26, 2014 at 16:36
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    Huh, I didn't find it confusing. It seemed clear and natural to me: "The TV commercial promised brightening (of my windows and other glass surfaces), but the product didn't deliver. I'm disappointed."
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 26, 2014 at 16:37

I am not a native speaker, but I just want to share my opinion. I have learnt that "promise" should be followed with "to + verb" as you mentioned.

However, I have found many "promise" with gerund on google in some cases. This appears mostly in News (Headline news sometimes), so I wonder if it is a way to make the sentence sounds more concise and interesting?? (same reason as Jim's comment about Ads??)

  • Nook, notice Jim's (perfectly grammatical) statement is not quoting from a (hypothetical) ad, it's quoting hypothetical) consumer who is contrasting the ad's promises to the reality of the product. The consumer isn't trying to sound concise or interesting; he's just stating his disappointment (to his [hypothetical] friend, let's say).
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 27, 2014 at 13:20
  • @Dan Bron oh thanks... so is it possible that "brightening" acts as a noun in this sentence. Gerund can be a noun, right?
    – NookToday
    Aug 27, 2014 at 13:26
  • Yes, a gerund is a noun with a force of a verb, and I do believe that's how it's used in Jim's sentence. But I'm not sure (else I would add an answer of my own, rather than nitpick others' :).
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 27, 2014 at 13:27
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    A gerund is a verb form that is part of a certain type of complement clause. There are other uses for the -ing verb form, however, and not all of them are gerunds. Dec 25, 2014 at 19:20

I have checked two dictionaries and can't find that "to promise" can mean to suggest. "to promise to do" is the typical construction when "to promise" is followed by a verb. What language competence has the person who said "to promise can also be followed by a gerund in the meaning of to suggest"?

Added: I've just had a look at BNC, 50 random examples with "promise". I only found the normal construction "to promise to do". I found no example for "to promise doing". But I admit I don't know yet how to formulate the question when I want to say: Look for instances with to promise + gerund.

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