I have a few questions, and I was hoping you could help me clear my mind😅

  1. Would you say, “I was watching her dance,” or “I was watching her dancing”?

  2. Would you say, “I was watching you sleep,” or “I was watching you sleeping?”

  3. Would you say, ”they were watching them argue, ” ”they were watching them arguing,” or “they watched them argue/arguing”?

  4. And lastly, would you say, ”I’ve never heard you laugh before,” or ”I’ve never heard you laughing before?”

Thank you in advance :)


With verbs of perception, both the infinitive and the V-ing work. The main difference is that, depending on the verb used, the infinitive may refer to the whole action while the present participle describes a moment during the performance of the action, for example:

  • I saw him cross the street (the whole process)

  • I saw him crossing the street (in the middle of the street, as he was crossing)

  • I heard her sing a song (the complete song)

  • I heard her singing a song (part of the song)

When the verb of perception is in a progressive tense (sentences 1, 2, 3), the momentary nature of the action after the object is conveyed by the verb of perception itself, and both the infinitive and V-ing work. However, the difference pointed out above is lost. What was watched was, respectively, only part of the dance, nap or argument.

  • Thank you soooo much! And what about the last question? Apr 7 '20 at 19:06
  • I see practically no difference. The point made by Edwin Ashworth as regards the verb "cough" in a comment above might apply to "laugh", too.
    – Gustavson
    Apr 7 '20 at 19:08
  • So, if you say something like “I love to see you dance” means I love to see that person perform the whole act. And I you say “I love to see you dancing” means you love seeing part of the act? Apr 7 '20 at 19:23
  • In the present, the difference is imperceptible. Even in the past it is, that is, unless we add the name of the piece. Compare I saw you dance Billy Jean (the whole song) and I saw you dancing Billy Jean (part of the song).
    – Gustavson
    Apr 7 '20 at 20:06

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