20

As a native speaker of English, the gerund version of this sentence sounds better:

infinitive:

When used together in chains, extension methods are an unprecedented tool to produce extremely concise code.

gerund:

When used together in chains, extension methods are an unprecedented tool for producing extremely concise code.

But how can I explain to someone learning English how to decide in situations like these whether to use the infinitive or the gerund?

16

From EnglishPage.com's article Gerunds and Infinitives Part 1, if you consider "to produce/for producing" as a complement in your phrase:

Both gerunds and infinitives can be used as the subject or the complement of a sentence.

However, as subjects or complements, gerunds usually sound more like normal, spoken English, whereas infinitives sound more abstract.
In the following sentences, gerunds sound more natural and would be more common in everyday English.
Infinitives emphasize the possibility or potential for something and sound more philosophical.

If this sounds confusing, just remember that 90% of the time, you will use a gerund as the subject or complement of a sentence.

Examples:

  • Learning is important. normal subject
  • To learn is important. abstract subject - less common
  • The most important thing is learning. normal complement
  • The most important thing is to learn. abstract complement - less common
  • 1
    There' more to it all. – Kris Jun 12 '14 at 12:58
  • 1
    While this answer may address the title question, it doesn't address the question presented in the body of the question. OP's question is specifically regarding adverbial clauses of purpose. So She went to the library to study is better than She went to the library for studying. And That pen is for drawing. but not That pen is to draw. However, I moved to Colorado for the skiing is ok, and means something different than I moved to Colorado to ski. It can be quite complicated; perhaps someone can post a better answer. – CoolHandLouis Jun 21 '15 at 4:01
  • I think that a better way to understand the difference is to think of it as a matter of scope. Infinitives have a narrow scope - they're always about the doing of the action, where gerunds generally have much broader conceptual scope, how broad really depends upon the verb. The ideas that "Infinitives emphasize the possibility or potential for something and sound more philosophical," and "gerunds usually sound more like normal, spoken English" sound like misguided advice to me. – Ubu English Jul 4 '17 at 15:15
  • Another helpful notion is that in your sentence with the infinitive the action of producing seems to be attributed to the tool, a tool to produce something vs. a tool for producing something, where the gerund, because of its scope, allows for a broader interpretation. – Ubu English Jul 4 '17 at 15:26
3

I would like to share some of my thoughts.

Though the 90% rule is good enough for beginner and intermediate learners, I would like to add that, very likely, it would be insufficient for more advanced learners. (I'm not a native English speaker, so I understand the problem from their side perfectly.)

If your students are willing to remember grammar rules, then you are lucky, especially if your students are not those who their first languages have virtually no tense. If I understand it correctly, most Asian languages have no such thing. The tense is implied, not used explicitly as in English, which is why many Asian people find it so difficult to learn English. (Not to mention many other problems such as articles, phrasal verbs, propositions, and so on.)

One good cure is use the language (in this case, English) a lot. Much enough that the learners can reach some level of sense of the second language (L2). Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

The next best thing, in my opinion, is to give some simple examples as the exemplars that they can rely on. So they can compare these example patterns to the grammatical problem they face.

Good exemplars should be simple enough, and yet still contradict the sense of first languages (L1) enough, to the point that they can realize the difference between the L1 and L2. A good exemplar for the use of gerund vs. infinitive that you mentioned, according to my own experience (myself and those who are close to me enough that I can help them), is:

I stop thinking.

I stop to think.

If they understand the profound difference between the two, they will develop the sense that helps them understand that which one is preferred, in which context. With such "language sense", they will be in much better position to deal with even difficult cases. They might not do it right the first time every time, but they will find the problem very easy to understand once being corrected.

Hope this is helpful.

  • 2
    I think the verb " stop" is a bad example since the idea changes completely when you use it followed by a to infinitive= 2 different actions implied, you interrupt an action to continue with another, whereas "to stop + ing = only one action involved which is interrupted. I prefer the explanation related to "abstract or referring to future = TO INFINITIVE and, "more common and real activity = GERUND, although I am not completely convinced about being able to discriminate on all occasions between a real activity and an abstract one. – GLADYS DRUST N. Feb 26 '16 at 0:47
2

I use infinitives to express intentions. Example: I need flour to make bread.

I use gerunds to name activities. Example: Making bread is not difficult.

I think "Learning is important." is the same as "To learn is important." but I would use "Learning is important." if I want to be very grammatically correct.

Gerunds and infinitives become interchangeable because people who speak/understand English well enough can usually deduce if a speaker is talking about an activity (gerund) or expressing an intention (infinitive) regardless of whether an infinitive or a gerund was used correctly.

  • 1
    So you mean that using Gerunds is futile and people must use only infinitives or vice-versa??? You know it's not the matter of understanding, every language has some principles that may seem futile in some cases(not the case you mentioned though, because "To learn is important" is not a complete question to learn what?) but in fact they are as essential as other grammar principles and rules. If people understand you when you're using broken English it doesn't necessarily mean that you're correct! This is what I think as a non-native person. – Kian Maghsoodi Aug 12 '16 at 17:08
0

In those contexts the usage of a gerund has the connotation of some kind of generality for me while using the infinitive refers to something more practical. Picking up your example:

You can use extension methods to produce extremely concise code.

This sounds like a concrete suggestion. You're suggesting someone to use extension methods. They could have asked you how they can produce concise code for example.

You can use extension methods for producing extremely concise code.

This sounds more general. You're explaining the advantages of extension methods to someone. They probably didn't ask you about how to produce concise code but this topic just popped up somehow.

Because your specific example aims to explain the benefits of extension methods in a general sense I find the gerund more appropriate.

0

In the example, "tool" is especially linked to the preposition "for" simply because a tool is made for a purpose. You almost automatically expect a description of a tool to contain that specific preposition. This is why the for + gerund version sounds so much more natural:

When used together in chains, extension methods are an unprecedented tool [for what?] for producing extremely concise code.

0

Very late to the game, but might be useful to someone who needs help with the same grammar.

Here's the way I'd explain it: For + gerund expresses the purpose of the noun To + infinitive expresses the purpose of the verb ('in order to')

I went to the market for buying vegetables. I went to the market to buy vegetables. --> Correct because it explains why you went to the market.

I bought vegetables for making a salad. --> Correct (though awkward) if you want to explain that you bought lettuce and tomatoes, rather than a pumpkin (I bought vegetables for a salad would be more natural here.) I bought vegetables to make a salad. --> Correct if you want to explain why you bought the veggies.

This is a tool for producing... --> Correct because it expresses the purpose of the tool This is a tool to produce... --> Incorrect because there's no action verb, so it's can express a purpose of an action

-1

Better to avoid the gerund altogether and use Active voice:

"To produce extremely concise code, use extension methods joined together in chains."

"Use this tool to..."

The [using the] gerund can easily result in overly verbose language.

  • Ooops typo: "Better to..." – Neil Bookless MISTC Oct 11 at 8:56
  • But this doesn't match the original meaning anywhere near closely enough. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 11 at 10:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.