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TO + verb base or TO + V + ing
Many non-native English speakers are reluctant to use –ing after “TO”. Maybe it is because you've learnt, at school that after “TO” a verb should always be in the infinitive...(please revise the lesson.) test
I) This is only half true. “TO” actually has TWO DIFFERENT FUNCTIONS:
– EITHER an infinitive marker (i.e. to show that the next word is an infinitive verb):
- The kid doesn't want to tidy up his room.
- OR a preposition (- He has gone to lunch).
When “TO” acts as a preposition, it is usually followed by an –ing form (which in this case is a gerund) or a noun/ noun phrase, like in these examples:
- I like cats – I like tennis – I like swimming (Here, "swimming" is a gerund)
- to run: I'm running – He isn't swimming, just diving. Here, “running” and “swimming”, “diving” are two verbs .
II) When is it correct to use “TO" plus – ing?
In English, the form V + -ing is called a gerund if it serves as a noun. For example, the gerund form of "run" is "running". (I like cats, I like dogs, I like running). However, not all V + ing forms are gerunds:
- In "I am running because I'm late.", "running" is a verb where you use to + V + -ing
1) If the TO is part of a phrasal verb or a verb + preposition combination:
A phrasal verb is something like "look forward to", "confess to", etc. In this case, the "TO" is part of the verb itself and is followed by -ing.
- I'm looking forward to meeting my friend again.
2) If the TO is part of an adjective + preposition combination: to be used/ accustomed to- to be opposed to- to be addicted to- to be devoted to- to be given to- to be used to-
It is not just the preposition TO that imposes the gerund, but the construction to be+ adjective+TO +V+ing .
- A lot of little girls aren't accustomed to going to school in this country.
- Most citizens are opposed to paying increased taxes.
These look similar to the examples above, but you can tell that a word like "opposed" and "accustomed" are adjectives in these cases, because there is a form of the verb to be before them and can be replaced by other adjectives ( here : "afraid" and "angry").
3) If the TO is part of a noun + preposition combination:
- His addiction to drinking was the cause of a very serious accident.
- Paula's dedication to volunteering is a surprise at her age.
III) Please, ... is there a trick, a "recipe" to help us recognize the difference between the two constructions?
When dealing with verbs needing the -ing form behind the preposition TO, the process is "simple"! They are very few and you only have to learn them, together with their construction. I can see you frowning, but know that making such a mistake will betray you as a foreigner and a beginner...
Moreover, for verbs as well as for derived adjectives and nouns, you'll soon get used to using them... and everything will go smoothly !
Finally, if you have the slightest doubt, try to think quickly and to replace the "verb + ing" construction by an equivalent noun. If the sentence makes sense, the gerund is the right solution; if not, you need an infinitive form... Easy, isn't it?
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