1. My dog is so lazy. It can't do anything except eating food.
  2. My dog is so lazy. It can't do anything except eat food.

Which one is right?
We asked this question in two different forums but we received different answers. Some said #1 is correct and some said #2 is correct. Look at their responses:

A selection of answers taken from WordReference

  • No. Except or but is followed by the bare infinitive here @e2efour
  • The clue is in the first part of the sentence:
    The structure is "they could not except . I suppose, in full, it would be They couldn't do anything except they could blame others. @PaulQ
  • Q70. He is not interested in doing anything except watching movies
    You see now? Here, "ing" is used instead of bare infinitive. I think it's because of the word "doing" Am I right? (The OP @xiaoen)
  • If you say watch, it could mean that he avoids watching movies at all costs.
    If you say watching, it means that he is only interested in watching movies. @e2efour

However, in the The Free Dictionary Language Forums > English Grammar, someone else offered the following explanation.

  • 'Except' is a preposition.
    My dog is so lazy. It can't do anything except eating food
    @Víctor Lplz

Now we are confused. Which one is correct, and why?

Thank you.


1 Answer 1


It seems the answer (in part) is found in the modal verb can; modal verbs (can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would) accept only bare infinitive verbs.

    A. My dog is so lazy. It can't fetch sticks, chase after a cat or even roll over but it can eat.

  1. My dog is so lazy. It can't do anything except eat

If the OP substituted can with any of the preceding modal verbs, the verb that followed "except" would still be the bare infinitive.

  1. My dog is so lazy, it won't do anything except eat.

However, if we switch the modal verb (can) with a normal verb that accepts a gerund, we have the following

      My dog is so lazy, it enjoys nothing but eating.

      My dog is so lazy, it enjoys doing nothing except eating.

The version with the bare infinitive works less well, it is less harmonious than the former but I wouldn't say it was "wrong" per se.

      My dog is so lazy, it enjoys doing nothing except eat.


There appears to be precious little on this aspect in the grammar books which I consulted at home. The advanced English grammar books tend to dismiss it entirely whereas the student-friendly books tend to repeat the same rule.

When except is followed by a verb, we usually use the infinitive without to.

      I couldn't do anything except just sit there and hope.
      She did nothing except complain the whole time she was here.
Except is normally followed by object-forms of personal pronouns (me, him, etc.), except in a very formal style.
      Everybody understood except me.

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

and in A Practical English Grammar by A.J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet

98 B The only exceptions to the gerund rule are except and but (preposition), which take the the bare infinitive:

      I could do nothing except agree
      He did nothing but complain

However, if but is used as a conjunction, it can be followed directly by the full infinitive or gerund:

      Being idle sometimes is agreeable, but being idle all the time might become monotonous.
      To be idle sometimes is agreeable, but to be be idle all the time etc.

  • 2
    Maybe you meant preceding rather than precedent. But anyway, yes, the sentence seems reduced from My dog can't do anything except it can eat. Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 13:38
  • 1
    @Clare thanks for pointing out the error. I have been hearing "unprecedented" a hell of a lot of times of late, and I guess it's stuck in my head.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 13:57

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