I need help with the grammar relating to the "it wasn't until" phrase.

It wasn't until I heard him speak/speaking that I recognized his voice.

Which is correct, speak or speaking? Why?

I would also like some helpful examples of usage.

  • The infinitive makes for a more elegant expression. Just my thought.
    – Kris
    Aug 10, 2017 at 10:10

1 Answer 1


Grammatically they are both correct, it changes the meaning.

Verb of perception + object + infinitive without to, I heard him speak, refers to the whole of an action or event.

Verb of perception + object + -ing form, I heard him speaking, suggests that we hear an action or event in progress.

Source: https://www.englishgrammar.org/verbs-perception/

In your particular sentence if you use the infinitive form your are suggesting that the action of speaking lasted for at least some, if not the whole, time, then you recognized his voice.
If you use the -ing form your are suggesting that you recognized his voice as soon as the action of speaking started taking place.

  • For this particular sentence, I don't think there's any difference in meaning. Aug 10, 2017 at 9:54
  • 1. Not necessarily. 2. The gerund form does not sound right at all. 3. Use case history supports the infinitive, too.
    – Kris
    Aug 10, 2017 at 10:13
  • 2
    @PeterShor That's right, but it's because any amount of speaking can be percieved as a discrete event. But the advice in general is good. Consider "I heard him play Mozart's piano concerto 21" and "I heard him playing Mozart's piano concerto 21", for example. Aug 10, 2017 at 10:51

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