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What's the difference between these sentences?

  • Ted was surprised to see his computer shutting down.

  • Ted was surprised seeing his computer shutting down.

  • It was nice to talk with you.

  • It was nice talking with you.

  • it is impossible to understand him.

  • it is impossible understanding him.

What's the rule? when do we use infinitives after adjectives and when do we use gerunds when we have a verb after an adjective?

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[1] Ted was surprised to see his computer shutting down.

[2] Ted was surprised seeing his computer shutting down.

[3] It was nice to talk with you.

[4] It was nice talking with you.

[5] It is impossible to understand him.

[6] It is impossible understanding him.

Adjectives don't normally license (permit/require) gerund-participial clauses (ing forms) as complement, so [1] is fine but not [2], at least not in this context.

[3] - [6] are extraposition constructions, where the infinitivals are impeccable, but the gerund-participials are marginal.

I haven’t seen a detailed attempt to say when gerund-participials are OK in extraposition, though certainly some cases (like [4]) sound fine. But I remember that in early work in generative grammar it was said simply that extraposition could not apply to gerund-participials.

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  • Yes; (4) must be classed as idiomatic (probably because it's appeared in so many B-movies and the like). (6) is far more jarring, possibly because there is an attempt to mix registers. I think there's a pull to a fragmented It was delightful, having the kids round. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 19 at 16:04
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    I'd say that in your example the comma and (presumably) a phonological difference make it a different construction, called 'right dislocation', where "it", unlike extrapositional "it", is referential. – BillJ Jul 19 at 16:34
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1/ surprised: ~ at/by sb/sth), ~ that…; ~ (to see, to hear, etc); see OALD.
This means that "surprised seeing" should not be used; however, this usage has come into being in the present century, as shows Google Books. There is no difference, then.
"Surprised seeing" should not be confused with "surprised, seeing"; in this latter arrangement there is no direct link between the object and "seeing" and the adjective, whereas when the comma is not used what causes the surprise is embodied in the object of "seeing".

2/ nice ~ to do sth; ~ doing sth; ~ that …; see OALD.
Therefore there is no difference.

3/ The construction "impossible seeing" feels even stranger than the construction in "1/" (it is not recorded in OALD); this is corroborated by the following findings.
The situation for "impossible" tends slightly to be that for "surprised", but only slightly. If you examine Google Books you will find numerous false positives (of the sort "impossible. Seeing…") and the construction "impossible, seeing", another false positive, but very few cases of "impossible seeing". It follows that, given the general trend we are bound to accept the two construction and consider they have the same meaning. However, some people might want to reject "impossible seeing" while considering "surprised seeing" acceptable.

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