Helping Students Learn Gerunds and Infinitives

I always hate to disappoint students by telling them that there’s no shortcut to learning which verbs are followed by gerunds and which ones are followed by infinitives. I try to offset that disappointment with a degree of optimism. When I ask them to give me examples using common verbs such as want, need, and enjoy, they almost always produce accurate statements using gerunds and infinitives as direct objects. I then point out that they knew what to choose – gerund or infinitive – because they use those verbs so frequently. It’s then possible to conclude that the more they practice, the more confident they’ll be of their choices. Here are some tips for students to use in their efforts to memorize the many verbs that take gerunds and/or infinitives as direct objects:

  • It doesn’t have to be a guessing game. There are good charts for reference both in grammar textbooks and on the Internet. Focus on Grammar includes such carts in the Intermediate, High Intermediate, and Advanced books, and Betty Azar offers a chart complete with useful examples in Understanding and Using English Grammar. Consider these links, too:

  • Learn new verb + object combinations as one of four types: (1) verb + gerund, (2) verb + infinitive, (3) verb + gerund or infinitive with little or no difference in meaning, (4) verb + gerund or infinitive with a change in meaning.
  • Practice with reasonable limitations. If a reference chart lists 50 verb +object combinations, it’s not realistic to memorize all 50 in one night and expect to retain it all for a long term. It would be more effective to practice groups of verbs from the chart over the course of a week or so.
  • Practice by using the verbs in a meaningful context. Much like vocabulary is learned, the use of gerunds and infinitives as direct objects will be memorized and retained when the many combinations are encountered frequently and practiced in meaningful contexts.

As teachers, we can aid our students by showing them how to apply these tips. In my next entry I’ll share an activity for gerunds and infinitives.


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