I know that, prescriptively speaking, that the verb "refuse" is supposed to be followed by an infinitive. For example:

The parents refused to buy the dangerous toy for their kid.

Since language usage isn't clear cut, I was wondering whether using a gerund instead of infinitive would be acceptable at all as in the following sentence:

The parents refused buying the dangerous toy for their kid. *


You can refuse a noun ("She refused the medicine they offered."), and a gerund is technically a noun ("Reading is fundamental") but I cannot think of a single example of refusing a gerund that does not sound awkward or just plain wrong.

Your example, "The parents refused buying the dangerous toy for their kid", would be in the latter category. "Buying a toy" as an action is not being offered to the parents. They are being asked to do it and they demur. That takes the infinitive.

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  • I agree - to refuse + gerund sounds inherently "awkward" to me too. But although some of the written instances of refused giving it either do or should have a comma before a supplementary clause starting with giving , a lot of them are for the usage in question. I also have the feeling it was more common a century or two ago, despite the fact that I think in general gerunds were less common then. – FumbleFingers Apr 15 '15 at 1:57
  • @FumbleFingers -- but 140 years later, doesn't it sound like the Nonconformists were somehow offered "bowing" as a service? "Oh, would you like us to bow for you?" "No, thanks, we're Nonconformists." – Malvolio Apr 15 '15 at 3:19
  • If the question had been asked on ELL I'd simply have advised OP to avoid the usage. But ELU isn't here to teach non-native speakers how to use English "naturally" - it's for those of us who already know what constitutes a "happy" usage to discuss the finer points (in the context of this type of question, at least). Personally, I don't have a problem even today with Although in principle I reject spoiling my ballot paper, with such a poor list of candidates I may have no choice. Using refuse there sounds "dated" to me, rather than "ungrammatical". – FumbleFingers Apr 15 '15 at 12:01
  • @FumbleFingers -- yes, that was my point. Sorry if I did not make that clear. It is grammatically correct: you can refuse a noun just like you can reject a noun, it just sounds funny because semantically, we don't tend to "refuse" gerunds. Refusing a noun means you decline to accept it and there aren't many situations where you are offered gerunds. More abstract verbs like reject, enjoy, and practice work on a wider scope. – Malvolio Apr 15 '15 at 17:40

http://www.really-learn-english.com/verbs-followed-only-by-infinitives.html -- Here is a list of verbs that can only be followed by infinitives (and not gerunds.) Refuse is on the list.

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