I've heard a grammar rule which is, if there is any verb followed by a preposition except the 'to' preposition, the verb must have a 'ing'.

As example, I've this sentence:

I am going for playing.

Where the 'play' verb is in 'ing' form.

But in this sentence:

I am going to play.

the 'play' verb is in normal form.

I just want to know that is the rule correct? If correct then is there any other exceptional preposition like 'to'?

  • That rule is not correct. Assuming it's a correct quote. No grammar rule would call to a verb. So check the rule again. Make sure that's what it is. Grammar rules, like equations, hafta be exact. Feb 4, 2015 at 16:14
  • @JohnLawler The rule does not say that to is a verb. It says that if there is any verb after to, then the verb must be in main form which means the verb must be in Present Form. Feb 4, 2015 at 16:28
  • Then the rule is improperl stated. It is true, at least given certain definitions of "preposition" that exclude complementizers like to, that few prepositions take infinitive complements, but in fact the preposition to can take a gerund complement. I was listening to Bill singing "La Cucaracha". Of course, one must distinguish between the complementizer to and the preposition to, which are identical in shape and must be identified in context. This means the rule goes the wrong direction; it doesn't predict. Feb 4, 2015 at 16:50
  • @JohnLawler In the I was listening to Bill singing "La Cucaracha" sentence, there is a noune ( Bill ) between to preposition and sing verb. So the rule does not work here. Feb 4, 2015 at 17:31
  • Grammar rules are not stated in terms of what kinds of words can follow other words. Feb 5, 2015 at 0:41

2 Answers 2


First things first. Nobody know what type of word to is in the sentence:

  • I am going to play.

A lot of people would just call it a particle (which means it's small and they don't know what it is). A small number of people would say that it's a verb. Some people say that it's a subordinator. However only a very, very small number of writers think it's a preposition. Those people that do think that it's a preposition, would argue that it is an exceptional preposition. It is not the same as the preposition to that we find in the sentence I went to Paris. This word is the same word we find in:

  • To err is human.

Most people regard it as part of an infinitive construction. It always appears before a plain form of the verb.

Regarding your rule. This rule is slightly circular because in backwards traditional grammar people describe prepositions as words that come before nouns. These writers view a gerund as a kind of nouny form of a verb. The problem is that if you ask these people why a particular sentence has a verb which isn't a gerund after a preposition, they'll say it's because that word is not a preposition. However, if you ask them why the word is not a preposition, they'll say because it isn't followed by a nouny form of the verb. You get the picture? This is an indefensible position to take. The answer to your question is that it is a fairly good rule of thumb that when a preposition occurs before a non-finite verb (i.e. not before a full finite clause) the verb will be in the --ing form. However, there are some exceptions:

  • He went on to become president.

Here we see the preposition on occurring before the to-infinitival, to become. There are other exceptions such as:

  • I was just about to leave.

Hope this is helpful!

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Feb 11, 2015 at 14:17

That rule works pretty well, but I think it's an accident of circumstances. For a preposition that introduces a prepositional phrase, a nominal object has to follow the preposition. Not a verb. So if you need to say something that requires a verb after a preposition, you have to convert the verb into a noun. Or rather, putting it more carefully, you have to nominalize the sentence that the verb occurs in. The only ways to do that in English that retain the verbal status of the verb are to use the "Poss-ing" complementizer or the "for-to" complementizer. Ignoring what happens to the subject of the sentence complement, that comes down to either adding "-ing" to the end of the verb or putting infinitival "to" in front of the verb.

So, here's an example of what happens. The verb "decide" takes a following prepositional phrase complement to specify what is decided: "I decided on it". If "it" is an action describing me buying a purple shirt, I could say A. "I decided that I would buy a purple shirt", B. "I decided to buy a purple shirt", C. "I decided on the purchase of a purple shirt", D. "I decided on buying a purple shirt".

Notice that the "on" is lost in versions A and B, and the verb "buy" has been converted to a noun in C. The only ways to fit a sentence into the structure demanded by "decide on" and at the same time keep the verb "buy" present are in B and D, and those have "to" before the verb or "-ing" added to the end of the verb.

So all the possible exceptions to your rule of thumb have been eliminated, more or less by coincidence.

(I didn't realize this was going to be so involved when I started typing it out.)

  • 1
    The reported rule seems to me to be backwards -- like "grammar rules I heard of" so often are -- in that it attempts to predict what must happen in general terms, while considering just a few cases of what can happen in specific terms. Instead of documenting alternatives, it prohibits random patterns. Feb 4, 2015 at 16:55

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