"Heard me [infinitive]" vs. "heard me [present participle]"

    1. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me talk about it.
    2. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me talking about it.
    1. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me condemn it.
    2. At that time, you wouldn't have heard me condemning it.

Which one of the above sentences are incorrect and why?

  • 4
    With verbs of perception, bot gerund and infinitive can be used. There us very little difference in meaning, if any. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 17:09
  • @Cerberus Thank you. Would you mind telling me the little difference in meaning of the above sentences? Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 17:13
  • 1
    Please incorporate the title into the question body and restate your question clearly. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 17:20
  • 2
    @BrightPolyglot: The difference is too small to analyse, and there may not be any semantic difference at all. If any, it must be pragmatic. See Lawler's answer. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


None of them are incorrect.

English sense verbs, unlike most complement-taking verbs,
can take either gerund or infinitive complements.

  • I saw/heard him leave/leaving.

This is most common with long-distance senses, of course;
-- She smelled him leaving is a fairly unlikely (though not ungrammatical) thing to say.

It may be (and undoubtedly some people interpret it this way, though others don't)

  • I heard him leaving.

means something like (and may be a variant of)

  • I heard him while he was (in the act of) leaving.


  • I heard him leave.

means something like

  • I heard the noise produced by his leaving.

Not a whole lot of difference here, and for all intensive purposes they're synonymous.

  • 2
    Yeah the difference is almost imperceptible, and I couldn't pinpoint it. The pragmatic difference between I heard him leave and I heard his leaving, however, is clear. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 18:44
  • 1
    Ah, but if we're going to subject this one to intensive analysis, perhaps we should consider the fact that with some constructions there's still another possibility - "I heard his breathing". Which seems perfectly reasonable to me, but unlike the him breathe/breathing versions, it doesn't work so well with saw. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 19:17
  • 2
    But that's a noun, not a gerund. I heard his labored reading of the book, but not *I heard his reading the book with difficulty. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 19:48
  • Given the right context, there is also the difference that the gerund can refer to the subject of the inflected verb, rather than the object: “He was trying to hide in the doorway, but I saw him craning my neck out far as I could”. This is not possible with an infinitive. Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 19:13
  • 1
    Great jokes from little ... Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 11:28

I agree that there's not much difference between the two, although the "-ing" form may suggest something that goes on for a while. For example, "I heard him sneeze" suggests that he just sneezes once, whereas "I heard him sneezing" gives more of a sense that the sneezing goes on for a while.

On a separate point, the expression is not "for all intensive purposes" (John Lawler). It's an eggcorn arising from a mishearing of the correct expression, which is "for all intents and purposes".

  • 1
    [Point 2] If you follow John's link, you will see that he's well aware of this. Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 18:56

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