This question about "started teaching/to teach" made me realise that even though the present participle and infinitive are both acceptable after "started", that's not the case with other superficially equivalent "auxiliary" verbs...

She began crying/to cry. (both okay - and to me, mean exactly the same thing)

She ceased caring/to care. (both okay, but the infinitive seems slightly more "natural" to me)

It commenced raining/?to rain.

It stopped raining/*to rain.

He quit gambling/*to gamble.

We gave up trying/*to try.

What is it about those last four that prevents the infinitive form being acceptable?

I have a vague sense that in some usages the infinitive might have been more acceptable in the past ("It commenced to rain" sounds a bit "Victorian" to me), but I can't square that with my preference for "I ceased to care" over "I ceased caring".


6 Answers 6


Some verbs may be followed by a gerund if they are describing an "actual, vivid or fulfilled action" (Frodesen); "cease" is one of this verbs. Probably your preference stems from this.

Also, 'begin' and 'commence' may be followed by a gerund if they are describing an "actual, vivid or fulfilled action" (Frodesen).

The following verbs can be followed by either an infinitive or a gerund, but there will be a difference in meaning. I stopped smoking means something quite different, for instance, from I stopped to smoke. The infinitive form will usually describe a potential action.

  • forget
  • remember
  • stop
  • I do recall that question, but I'm not sure it helps here. That difference arises from the fact that to try xxx can mean either attempt to do xxx, or do xxx, in an attempt to solve some other problem. I don't see how began, ceased, commenced, stopped etc., can have different meanings depending on whether they're followed by a gerund or an infinitive. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 15:48
  • @FumbleFingers - You are right. I have improved my answer. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 15:53
  • Per my comment to Brett, I'm really more concerned with why, for example, start and stop don't behave symmetrically in this usage, rather than with my preference for using the infinitive after cease. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 16:05
  • @FumbleFingers - I stopped smoking means something quite different, for instance, from I stopped to smoke. The infinitive form will usually describe a potential action. Therefore the 'symmetrical issue' does not exist in linguistic sense. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 16:17
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    @FumbleFingers: why should verbs that have quite different histories, despite being antonyms, behave symmetrically? It would be pleasing if they did, but there's no justification for believing that they should. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 17:19

Different verbs allow different types of complements. Some take objects, and some don't. Some take that content clauses, some take whether content clauses, and some don't take any content clauses. Some take infinitives, and some take gerunds. That's just the way language is.

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    I can't in all conscience consider this a valid answer. It can start raining, stop raining, or start to rain. It seems a bit of a cop-out to say "That's just the way language is" when I ask why it can't stop to rain. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 16:00
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    To some extent, I agree with you. It's an interesting question to ask why certain complements are allowed for certain verbs and others are not. Nevertheless, I have never seen an answer given, despite looking hard. Consider also, that my children and their friends all say, he's allowed coming over where all the folks in my generation agree that we'd never say this but would rather say he's allowed to come over. The fact that this can change in the course of one generation suggests that there is no underlying principle. That's just what a particular community has chosen to see as correct. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 17:17
  • I think "to be allowed/permitted/encouraged/etc. [to verb/verbing]" is a somewhat different case, but it's intriguing your younger generation have shifted to favouring the gerund where us oldies prefer the infinitive. I thought it went the other way with, say, cease - but it rather seems that verb has simply given way to stop. Perhaps it really is directionless "linguistic churn". Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 19:34

This will only partly answer an otherwise loaded question.

Some phrases acquire an idiomatic sense and when we hear them, we instinctively expect a certain related thing to follow.
I stopped to ...: To..., do what?
Rather than a quirk of the language, it is because of the way the brain works: by fuzzy, non-linear, logic.

Trying to find a rational explanation in English grammar would, therefore, be futile.

  • I wish I hadn't included stop in my question text - like try and remember, that verb has well-established different meanings dependent on whether it's followed by an infinitive or a gerund. The real issue for me is why some words (such as begin, start, and perhaps commence) can accept either form with no change in meaning, whereas others (quit, give up, etc.) can only be used with the gerund. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 19:50
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    The other word that fits in the stopping side is cease, which works with both infinitivals and gerund-participles. Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 10:13

The reason this is a mystery to you is because you've got your terms all wrong. There's no gerund in "It started raining." A gerund is a noun form of a verb ending in -ing. That "raining" in the example is the present participle, not a gerund. "It is raining" is called the progressive tense in English, and it expresses an ongoing action. It can be combined with verbs like "start" and "begin" and so on to show a definitive starting point to a continuing action. The infinitive is just the unconjugated form of a verb—and it would not make sense to say "It stopped to rain" because that would imply that it stopped in order to rain. Whether you say "start" or "begin" with one verb versus another is based on convention and style—it's idiomatic, not grammatical.

  • Okay, granted I should have used present participle, not gerund in the question text. But terminology aside, that still leaves the question of why She ceased to care is valid, but She stopped to care isn't. Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 19:29

This is a quotation from a semantic book, so I'd like you to not hold this against me. And I think you should know that the book was put out in my mother tongue, so I have to turn it into English on my own. If you come across strange or weird things, please take it into account.

  • START TO DO SOMETHING and START DOING SOMETHING are generally the same, but sometimes it seems that they have a slightly different meaning each.
    For example,

    'He started to get mean but thought better of it.'

    We could assume that he was about to get mean, but he wasn't.

    'He started getting mean and I went out.'

    He got mean and perhaps behaved badly so 'I' walked out.

  • BEGIN takes TO DO SOMETHING or DOING SOMETHING as its complement.

    In 'Her head bagan to rotate slowly from one side to the other.',

    her head moved once; it never did twice or more.

    In 'Mr. Swan began making introductions.',

    he had some people left to introduce to others, and he'd already introduced a few people.

  • STOP and QUIT is also close, but for QUIT, the subject, or the actor, must be an animate being. So it would be strange to say, 'The water quit dripping.'

  • For CEASE, CEASE TO DO SOMETHING and CEASE DOING STH are also similar in general, but they're preferred respectively depending on contexts.

    'The baby ceased crying when she heard her parants came in.'

    She had been crying, and stopped it when her parents came in.

    'That world has ceased to exist.'

    Here TO DO SOMETHING would be better, because in this case, the ceasing was not at a particular moment or in a single situation. 'that world' itself was disappeared, or was wiped off and like that. The subject is terminated forever. (This can be proved with the use of Ngram Viewer. The result of searching 'CEASE TO EXIST' and 'CEASE EXISTING' is very noteworthy. The former has been in wide use, but the latter seems never to have been used until now.)

The author says those verbs seem alike at first blush, but each has its own usage, so they should not be sorted in the same category. Also, according to him, verbs like STOP mean finishing something which has been going on, and the form of VERB-ING suggests that the act has started before and still going on, so the verbs and the VERB-ING form fit in well. STOP, GIVE UP types inevitably go with VERB-ING.

This part of the book was written based on works of prominent authors worldwide such as Bolinger, Dixon, Palmer and so forth, so this explanation should be reasonable. (Or, maybe, too theoretical.) I'm not sure I'm getting the content across to you well.

I see that you are a native speaker from British, so it's up to you to accept or reject this quotation. I hope this would be of any help to you.


"began", "ceased", "started" etc. are usually transitive and need an object. "She began." or "She ceased." leave us hanging. Thus when you add an infinitive, the infinitive is clearly the object of "began" and "ceased" and there is no ambiguity. "She began to smoke". "He ceased to resist."

"stopped", "quit", "gave up" can be comfortably used without an object, and therefore following them with an infinitive yields significant ambiguity. "He quit to be happy." could mean that "He quit his job to be happy." or "He quit being happy [and became sad].". Also consider: "He gave up to be sane." could mean "He gave up trying to change his wife's mind so he would be sane." or "He decided to go mad."

"commence" does not fit my hypothesis as well, but then I don't find "He commenced to speak." all that awkward either. It is just awkward and there is no other meaning.

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