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I saw some examples in a paper on gerund and infinitive as follows.

... deciding whether to use a gerund or an infinitive after a verb can be perplexing among students for whom English is a second language. Examples: (6a) Why do we decide to run, but we would never decide running? (6b) We might avoid running, but we would not avoid to run. (6c) We might like running and would also like to run.

Reference : Ibrahim, Hussaina. (2019). THE NOMINAL ROLES OF GERUNDS AND INFINITIVES. PUPIL: International Journal of Teaching, Education and Learning. 3. 181-188. 10.20319/pijtel.2019.31.181188.

This paper doesn't explain how each pair is different though. I have two questions here.

  1. Is each pair grammatical? (I've learned that "decide" takes to-infinitive, not gerund, and "avoid" takes gerund, not infinitive.)

  2. Then, what is the semantic difference in each pair?("decide to run" vs "decide running"...)

Thank you for your help!

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    The author is careless in not specifying what those samples are examples of. As it turns out, they are all mistakes, and should have been marked with an asterisk to show that. The first two of them are ungrammatical; the last one makes no sense. As for how to decide between infinitive and gerund - there is a list of verbs that can take infinitives and another list of those that can take gerunds. Some verbs are on both lists; some aren't on any list. You have to learn the verbs individually, like you have to learn the spellings and pronunciations of English words. Aug 17, 2022 at 15:16
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    But further to what @JohnLawler said, the list of verbs that takes gerund participles is much, much smaller than the list that takes to-infinitives. So you can think of to-infinitives as being the default and learn the -ing ones as an exceptional list, which reduces the load somewhat. Aug 17, 2022 at 15:27
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    @JohnLawler If I understand correctly, the phrases like "decide running" and "avoid to run" are simply ungrammatical, aren't they? Well, the problem solved then. Thank you for your comment!
    – Englishy
    Aug 17, 2022 at 15:37
  • Yes, those are ungrammatical phrases. The verbs don't match the complement type. As for the last one, the use of run as the main verb in both clauses makes the sentence nonsense. If you like to run, you will also like running. There's no difference in meaning between gerunds and infinitives; only a difference in grammar. Aug 17, 2022 at 16:32
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    "Running" in "I like running" is ambiguous between verb and noun. Noun interpretation can be forced by adjectival premodification, as in "I like occasional running".
    – BillJ
    Aug 17, 2022 at 17:28

2 Answers 2

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The infinitive describes one instance of an action; the gerund describes the action itself.

  • To run would be a mistake – One instance of running would be a mistake.
  • Running would be a mistake – The action of running would be a mistake.

The instance and the action are often difficult to distinguish.

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    I'm not sure this covers it - "I like to run" doesn't mean "I like one instance of running", it means something more like "I like the idea or concept of running, in general".
    – psmears
    Aug 17, 2022 at 15:38
  • @psmears: On reflection, I tend to agree, perhaps "any instance of running..."?
    – Greybeard
    Aug 17, 2022 at 16:15
  • I'm not sure I can put my finger on the precise meaning; I'd probably go for "the idea or concept of running", but I'm not sure whether that works well in all cases :)
    – psmears
    Aug 18, 2022 at 14:36
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(6a) says that the verb decide licenses the infinitive (to run), but never gerund (running).

(6b) says that avoid takes gerund (running), but not infinitive (to run).

(6c) says that the verb like accepts both gerund (running) and the infinitive (to run).

Don't ask why :) As @John Lawler pointed out, there is only one way: get used to them. Here is a list (Thought.co) that might help you begin. And don't get discouraged, it does get easier!

In that link you will find such examples as

  • She avoids dating men over 30.
  • He decided to go to university in San Francisco. (So, to decide running is not grammatical)
  • We like to discuss learning techniques.
  • Bob dislikes having to work so hard.

As for the difference of use between gerund and infinitive with verbs that accept both,

There is a very small difference in meaning between the two forms. The -ing form emphasises the action or experience. The to-infinitive gives more emphasis to the results of the action or event. We often use the -ing form to suggest enjoyment (or lack of it), and the to-infinitive form to express habits or preferences.(Cambridge)

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