Verb patterns (infinitives and -ing forms)

Updated: Aug 23

So, you’re determined to learn English once and for all? No doubt you’ll experience the highs and lows of language learning: one minute you think it’s logical and easy, and the next, you think it’s impossible and makes no sense at all. In today’s blog we’re going to explain one of the low points in learning English: verb patterns. The topic can be so cumbersome and overwhelming that some students may lose their motivation at the thought of trying to understand it. So take a deep breath and a pinch of British humour and follow us into the world of verb patterns made simple.

Firstly, what’s a pattern? A pattern is something which is used as a model, a copy, or it’s the repeated way in which something happens. It comes from the latin patronus (defender, protector) via the French, patron. Just a little history for you there! But now that we’re here dealing with this etymology, patronus interestingly comes from pater, father. So we can definitely see a link through all these words.

Now back to these verb patterns. Basically, when we use two verbs together we need to decide how to construct the sentence. After some verbs we have to use the -ING form for the next verb and for others we need to use the infinitive form. On some occasions we can use either option and there is no change in the meaning of the sentences. Sometimes we can use either form but there is a change in meaning.

Your first question might be: “Teacher, what’s the rule?”. Unfortunately, English being the megamix of languages and rules that it is, there is no hard-and-fast rule. The best way to learn these patterns is by exposure to the language. By reading and hearing the correct use, over time it will become intuitive - you’ll start saying “a gerund sounds good here, but I don’t know why”. That’s great, and shows you have absorbed the patterns subconsciously.

Taking centre stage in our story about María and Pau are the verbs which use the -ing form:

They include (but are not limited to) mind, finish, enjoy, practice, consider, imagine, can’t stand, miss, risk, enjoy, suggest, avoid, and recommend.

  • Maria can’t stand listening to Bon Jovi.

  • Pau hasn't finished preparing the oysters yet!

  • I recommend whispering in her ear.

  • He suggested going to the bedroom.

Easy, right? You might have already known some of them without having ever studied them. Brilliant!

Next up, in the second act of "Maria and Pau" are the verbs which use the infinitive form:

These include: hope, offer, promise, agree, manage, decide, learn, want, would like, decide, plan

  • Pau plans to buy a lot of wine.

  • María hopes to have a better life with him.

  • He would like to learn the lyrics to "It’s My Life".

  • They agreed to keep their love affair secret.

Good, you say. You can do this with your eyes shut. Way to go!!!

Now let’s look at the very few verbs which can take the -ING or infinitive form and have no change in meaning. So, both are correct in all situations. Easy peasy.

Like, love, hate, prefer, continue, start, begin

  • She likes to sing in the shower / She likes singing in the shower.

  • He loves to talk while in bed / He loves talking while in bed.

  • They prefer to make love in the evening. / They prefer making love in the evening.

As you can see, both ways are possible and both are used just as frequently. So there’s no need to hesitate with those!

Finally, we have our few verbs which take either the -ING form or the infinitive, but there is a change in meaning. So, although both may sound hunky-dory to your ear, you need to pay attention to the meaning you're implying... Let's jump in right away:

Well, joking aside, yes, there is a lot of information here but it is important not to get overwhelmed. You’ll improve this grammar point with practice and patience. Over time you’ll feel more and more confident until the verbs come naturally. Try listening to series, podcasts, and reading books, magazines and news in order to absorb these structures in a natural environment. You can also test yourself by using the quizlet below!

Like what you read? Got something to say? Leave us a comment below!


at all - para nada

deal with - lidiar con

way to go! - ¡bien hecho!

jump in - meterse

hard-and-fast rule - norma estricta

love affair - rollo, aventura

hesitate - dudar

easy-peasy - chupado, super fácil

hunky-dory - sobre ruedas

sigh - suspiro

overwhelmed - agobiado

joking aside - fuera de broma

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