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?

  • Just out of curiosity, what is "sth"? Commented Apr 17, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 23:06
  • Thank you for the clarification! :) Choosing "sth" to abbreviate "something" doesn't seem entirely intuitive, but it works. Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 23:32

5 Answers 5


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 like running every morning" implies that it's the actual running itself that gives me the pleasure.

  • I think she would like to GET married rather than to BE married, no? Or are they too similar to bother
    – mplungjan
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 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... Commented Apr 17, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 7:40
  • Re GET vs BE. "to be married" can refer to the wedding (same as "to get married") or the state of married life. "She wants to be married on Christmas Day" would refer to the wedding. "I'm happy to be married" to the ongoing state. "Get" is generally more common in the US than UK in most contexts, and probably here, so "be married" may be more of a Briticism.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 12 at 16:17

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.

  • 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
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 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. Commented Apr 17, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 19:05
  • The "paper" in the OP was probably a misspelling of "pepper" the spice, or peppers (the vegetable).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 13:19

I like being married

is correct if you like the state of marriage.

I like to be married

sounds wrong.


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


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

I like doing is more like I enjoy doing


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


There is very little difference in some cases, but there could be for certain verbs.

He likes cycling. (He enjoys the activity.)

He could travel to work by bus, but he likes to cycle. (He chooses that mode of transport.)