Would native speakers use "to harm" in this one? Thanks.

The elephant king agreed. He ordered that the elephants stop stepping on a single mouse. From then on, the elephants paid attention and lifted their huge legs carefully, never ___ their tiny friends.

  1. harm
  2. harmed
  3. harming
  4. to harm
  • 3
    Either harming or to harm is grammatical. The others are not. Commented May 11, 2020 at 23:51
  • 2
    I'd use harming or to harm. Commented May 11, 2020 at 23:57
  • 4
    IMO, to harm is the more likely usage here. It has that fairy-tale feel to it, suggestive of a behavior that would last through the ages.
    – Robusto
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 0:06
  • @Robusto , Thanks. So, if I split the sentence into two, do both of the following work? 1.they were never to harm their tiny friends. 2.they would never harm their tiny friends.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 5:56

3 Answers 3


You have two possibilities, both grammatical, but with different meanings

  1. "harming" means that they did not, in fact, harm the mice
  2. "to harm" means that they took the care for the purpose of refraining from the harm.
  • Harming in no way means that they did not harm the mice. The context makes clear that the elephants had already harmed mice previously ...ordered that the elephants stop stepping on a single mouse... . Furthermore, this part is qualified by from then on so the net effect is: never harming their tiny friends from then on. The best we could say is that from that point on, no more mice were harmed.
    – DW256
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 6:08
  • Because "harming" is a modifying clause, it means that the action it is modifying did not harm the mice, not that they never harmed them.
    – Mary
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:40
  • The gerund-participial clause is an adjunct to the main clause. It shows the resultant situation: B because of A. There is an overlap between the two where the to-infinitival could show purpose, but could also show a resultant situation. This is why this clause needs again in it to make clear that though they did harm the mice before, they now paid attention and lifted their huge legs carefully with the result that they never again harmed their tiny friends. Note that this wouldn't make sense without again or anymore or something similar.
    – DW256
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 6:13

Either harming or to harm would work, but the sentence really needs an again at the end since they already harmed them before.

  • "again" would be redundant here since "never" is already qualified by "from then on" Commented May 12, 2020 at 11:17
  • 1
    @EspeciallyLime: Then I guess you think the anti-Holocaust rallying cry "Never Again!" could make do with only one of those words?
    – Robusto
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 20:25
  • @Robusto No, of course not. If you read the whole of my comment, it should obviously only imply that if the rallying cry had been "From now on, never again!" then it could have been trimmed down a bit. But I guess whoever came up with it already realised that. Commented May 13, 2020 at 7:44

I think harming is the intended answer. "Never harming..." is a grammatically correct and idiomatic way to express that (from then on) they never harmed the mice.

"Never to harm...", while it might technically be grammatical, is not so idiomatic; I don't recall ever hearing that construction (and am a native speaker). If I intended this meaning, I would write "in order never to harm..." or something similar.

In fact, the passage is slightly modified from a story available here, and "never harming" is the original version.

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