Should we use "choose" or "choosing"?

I was browsing the Internet when I stumbled upon this word play in a retailer catalog

Door handles and locks: the key to choosing wisely

At first the sentence seemed strange to me but after a quick research it came out that both are correct. Could you confirm?

Is there a different meaning those two?

  • Requires noun or (gerund in this case). See English Language Learners Good Luck. – Kris Aug 22 at 12:35
  • I can see why you ask: the physical key would be used as "the key to open the door" not "the key to opening the door." – Weather Vane Aug 22 at 12:37
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    In general, I wouldn't take the grammaticality of retail or marketing copy too seriously, at least compared to other writing. Marketers frequently use sentence fragments, wordplay, and other features that would be unconventional in longform writing. See Tesco's "Every little helps." – TaliesinMerlin Aug 22 at 12:44
  • @TaliesinMerlin What could be grammatically amiss with "Every little helps"? – Kris Aug 22 at 12:46
  • @Kris This Language Log post puzzles through it: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=749 . – TaliesinMerlin Aug 22 at 12:51

Since "the key to" is an idiom meaning "The crucial element in," it follows specific grammar: as noted briefly in a comment here, the phrase is followed by a noun or gerund, sometimes with an adjective before it: the key to long life, the key to a happy marriage, the key to enjoying your retirement, etc.

Using "choose" would fail to recognize the idiom.


The headline is making use of a pun on the word "key".

A key is part of a door with a lock, and you have to choose this wisely. So you would use the verb "choose" in this sense.

But "key" can also be used more figuratively to mean something that provides a solution to a problem. In this sense, the problem is choosing a door handle and lock, so you use the gerund form "choosing" to treat the process as a noun.

The title uses the latter form because that's what the text is about. They chose the phrase "key to" just for the clever word play; this is common in headlines.

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