"asking" - In this case this kind of language element is called gerund, right?

In high school my teacher firmly told us two verbs can never be together (25 years later I can still remember her angry face).

But I do see a lot of sentences like this, in some literature:

All he did was ask a question.

I am pretty sure my English teacher wouldn't be happy with this and would put a big "X" next to it. She told us you either convert the latter verb to an infinitive or a gerund, so it is either:

All he did was asking a question.


All he did was to ask a question.

So is the first writing grammatically right? And if it is, is there any difference in meaning of the three sentences?

  • 4
    Your English teacher was trying to point you in the right direction, but English has so many exceptions that rules become almost meaningless as you develop a good ear for normal, idiomatic usage. Both your first and third example are idiomatic (the first perhaps more than the third; I haven't looked at a Google Ngram to see), while your second example is not idiomatic, as I think you already know. However, by rearranging the word order, "Asking a question was all that he did," that sentence becomes acceptable as well. Your English is very good. Read all you can to improve even more! Jan 4, 2017 at 15:19
  • P. S. Yes, the first sentence is grammatically correct, and there is no difference in meaning between it and the third sentence. Jan 4, 2017 at 15:24
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    The predicative complement here can only be an infinitival: All he did was ask a question. The bare infinitival is restricted to cases where the subject NP contains "do" in a relative clause, as in your example, but "to" can optionally be added: All he did was to ask a question.
    – BillJ
    Jan 4, 2017 at 15:49
  • @shenkwen - Here is a light-hearted article on gerunds and participles that is much easier to read than wading through all the conflicting comments attached to the EL&U entry on the same subject: quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/participles-and-gerunds I hope you enjoy it. Jan 4, 2017 at 15:57
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    (I rolled back someone else's extensive edits to preserve the original question as much as possible, adding a space, changing minor punctuation, and adding the word "infinitive." I hope this is acceptable to @shenkwen.) Jan 4, 2017 at 16:06

1 Answer 1


Yes! And an English teacher wouldn't put a big "X" next to it. He will instead be happy that you know better than others. Because it's acceptable in English to use "bare infinitive " after "do/does/ did " in this sort of sentences. So you can write -

1) All he did was ask a question.


All he did was to ask a question.


All he did was asking a question.

But The last one, I think, is best.

  • what about "go"? I often hear ppl say " I go get a drink", while my "instinct" is to say "I go to get a drink" or "I go swimming"
    – shenkwen
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:17

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