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Title says everything. American English please (but if it's different in British English, please point that out as well)

closed as unclear what you're asking by TrevorD, Edwin Ashworth, Mari-Lou A, Cascabel, Rand al'Thor Mar 19 '17 at 16:01

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  • Please give example(s) of the type of sentence you are trying to construct. – TrevorD Mar 18 '17 at 13:34
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    Possible duplicate of Is this sentence right correct "What I want to do is read this book."? (See @John Lawler's answer, which contains "If you use a [wh-] cleft construction, you have to remember what the main verb is, and match it up correctly.") ==> 'What I'm going to do is answer this question.' 'What I'm doing is answering this question.' – Edwin Ashworth Mar 18 '17 at 14:23
  • The title says everything, does it? But what you want, I expect is a detailed analysis of British and American English usage based on four words. My reaction? Sorry, not good enough. – Mari-Lou A Mar 18 '17 at 14:52
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To answer this kind of question I find it best to consult a large corpus. This enables me to answer the question based on what people actually do rather than offer an answer that is opinion-based and prescriptive.

Using Sketch Engine (https://www.sketchengine.co.uk) I did a search for what I am doing is to in the huge "English Web 2013 (enTenTen13)" corpus, consisting of 19,685,733,337 words.

I found 24 examples, all appearing to have been written by competent writers, where the infinitive is used in a noun phrase that is expressing an equivalent to the preceding what I am doing is.

INFINITIVE

A search for "what I am doing is" yields 1,172 examples. The following is a picture of the first page of a random sample (250 examples) of the overall set. I have added green rectangles to show where the gerund is used in a noun phrase that amounts to the equivalent of what I am doing. There are thirteen of these on the page of 30 examples. 1172 divided by 30 equals roughly 39. Multiply 39 by 13 and you get 507. So there are probably around 500 examples in the corpus of a gerund being used in a noun phrase equivalent to what I am doing is.

We can conclude that the gerund is far more common in this kind of equivalent construction. However, as the gerund examples that are not enclosed in green triangles show, the construction is not limited to the expression of equivalents to what I am doing is.

GERUND

  • Out of the 24 examples with the infinitive, in five the "what I am doing" is the end of a clause, so it's not an example of the construction the OP is interested in. And at least two others appear to be written in what I consider to be bad English. So infinitives occur at a rate of around 3% of the gerunds. – Peter Shor Mar 18 '17 at 14:53
  • I'm sorry. I can't see what you mean. Are you referring to the second picture? If so, there are no examples of the infinitive. – Kevin Mark Mar 18 '17 at 16:56
  • I'm referring to the first picture. For example: "The only thing I would rather do (than what I am doing) is to terraform other planets." The "to terraform" might be associated with "rather do" and not with "than what I am doing". (I think I miscounted, though.) – Peter Shor Mar 18 '17 at 17:20
  • I agree that it is an interesting example. However, if you were to simplify what the writer is saying so that the comparison is not made, then it would be this: "I would rather terra-form other planets." – Kevin Mark Mar 18 '17 at 17:31
  • My last comment didn't address the issue properly. It seems to me that "What I would rather do" or "What I would rather be doing" is equivalent, grammatically, to "What I am doing is." If you then say that the sentence can be reworded as: What I am doing is to (verb inf) and what I am not doing is to terra-form and I prefer the latter, it makes clear that the use of the infinitive "to terra-form" is associated with both what I am doing and what I am not doing. – Kevin Mark Mar 19 '17 at 6:19

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