Gerund structure – Part II

In general to the V construction has future orientation. It speaks of potential events, while the gerund has present or past readings, it tends to ‘reify’ or actualize an event. This distinction is relevant for several categories of verbs that take both complements.

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Also, in general, the infinitive complement carries with it a generic reading (cf. Freed (1979)) It suggests a series (= + countable, plural interpretation) of the event / action in question, occurring at different moments, throughout an unspecified stretch of time. The gerund on the other hand has a durative reading, which typically refers to the unspecified duration of a single event.

While these are very general properties of the two types of clauses, the specific meaning difference between a to-clause and an ing-clause depends on the semantics of particular main verbs as well. There is a first class of verbs showing little or no meaning difference between the infinitive and the gerund complement.

(17) afford, attempt, brook, decline, delay, disdain, dread, fear, forbear, neglect, omit, project, purpose, scorn, shun, plan, intend.

(18) a. It is needless to attempt describing the particular character of young people. I don’t attempt to strike out anything new.

  1. Do you think I’ll brook to be / being worse treated than a cook?
  2. He had declined attending the ceremony. He declined to take any part in the concern.

One should also include in this class the few, aspectual verbs that govern both infinitives and gerunds: begin, start, commence, continue, cease, go on, finish, stop (only gerund), because the two complements are interchangeable in almost all contexts. In spite of this, Freed (1979), Conrad (1982) have shown that each of the two complements may convey specific shades of meaning, emerging in appropriate contexts. When the gerund is used after aspectual verbs it makes reference to a specific event or a series of events locatable in space and time. Since the gerund refers to observed performances of an action, it is often qualified by manner adverbials or other adverbials describing various aspects of the event. This has to do with the more concrete range of denotations allowed by gerunds (events, facts, propositions), while the infinitives express propositions. (cf. Asher (1993) in the preceding chapter).

(19) a. He began abstractly brushing his hair.

He went across to the shelves and began removing books from them with admirable speed and dexterity.

The infinitive with aspectual verbs is best suited to refer to potential events, given its modal meaning. Thus the infinitive is appropriate to express dispositional properties of the subject, that is, what the subject can do, not what the subject is actually doing at some point in time. The infinitive is frequent with verbs of state, habitual predicates or psychological verbs, since they often express dispositional properties:

(20) a. She started to be interested in music late in life.

She began to read poetry when she was ten.

The infinitive is often chosen to express habitual events (the same event appearing at different points in time), sometimes with subjects designating a plurality; the event may be regularly or sporadically repeated:

(21) a. His intelligence never ceases to amaze me / (amazing me).

Two years later they began to write to one another regularly.

(22) a. While the man held a gun on her she continued counting / to count out hundred dollar bills.

While semantic factors of the type mentioned above may explain the preference for one form in a particular context, the two complements are, in principle interchangeable with aspectual verbs. Thus the infinitive may describe one single non-hypothetical occurrence, which is the realization of some dispositional property (23a,b). Similarly, the gerund can be quantified over, so that it may express generic activities, which represent, however, a generalization of observed specific events (23c):

(23) a. The train started to move.

To fill in some time, he found some College stationary and began to write

A difference of meaning has often been noticed between the gerund and the infinitive of verbs of affective stance (verbs of liking and disliking): like, love, adore, detest, hate, prefer (all with gerund and infinitive), adore, enjoy tolerate, resent, dislike (only with gerund complements). The difference between gerund and infinitive with verbs of emotional reaction is similar to the one described for aspectual verbs. The gerund after verbs of emotional reaction refers to a definite event; it expresses an emotional stance to real experienced occurrences. Also, it often functions like an anaphoric definite article, referring back to an already mentioned event.

(24). Bond liked fast cars, and he liked driving them.

The infinitive implies that there is a disposition for actions of a certain kind. What the subject likes, hates, etc. is a kind of activity, which will predictably appear under appropriate circumstances, though it need not have occurred. The infinitive is preferred to convey generic meanings: general rules, properties, etc. Thus in (25a) the subject has the property of liking to talk over dinner, etc.:

(25) a. Somas liked to talk during dinner.

  1. A man likes to be waited on.
  2. He loved above all to see the Guards drilling in the park.

The typically referential nature of the gerund, in contrast with the generic, dispositional nature of the infinitive is best brought out in sentences containing state verbs, where the infinitive may suggest several occurrences of a state, while the gerund refers to a continuous durative occurrence.

(26) a. We all love being in love. / We all love to be in love.

I adore being engaged. / I adore to be engaged.

However, since the gerund DP can be quantified over, the gerund too can express generic meaning, as in (27c-f), and, on the other hand, the infinitive may refer to a single event, possibly falling under some rule, or disposition (as in (27a, b)), so that again the two forms will often be interchangeable. (27 f, g)

(27) a. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. b. I don’t like to be avoided.

We like having fun, and we like having it together. d. He likes going out with an attractive girl.

The choice of the gerund or the infinitive with these verbs may also largely depend on mood, tense factors of the main and the embedded clause. Thus the infinitive is chosen to convey futurity with respect to the main clause.

(28) a. I don’t like to refuse him, but I am afraid I shall have to.

He preferred to drive back through the night.

Given its modal meaning, the infinitive is strongly preferred when the main clause is in a subjunctive, hypothetical form. For example in the five-million word corpus investigated by the Longman grammar,” 75% of the occurrences of like + to-clause in fiction and news are preceded by would. (op. cit. 757).”

(29) a. I would like to have your little rowing boat tomorrow, and go out to the wreck and take some photos of that.

She would however have liked to have had a child.

All the examples so far have involved explicit control of the complement subject. This is the only possibility for infinitives. The gerund may also have a non- controlled interpretation, where the embedded subject is understood as impersonal, unspecified, as in (30b, c). Hence the gerund may be more ‘impersonal’ than the infinitive. Thus example (30b) does not imply that the main clause subject kills dogs or tortures animals, in contrast with (30a).

(30) a. I hate to have to kill my dog / dogs.

I hate killing dogs / torturing animals.

Consider the following verbs: need, require, want (= need), deserve, bear. These verbs are freely followed by gerund or infinitive complements. What is of interest with these verbs is the alternation between a passive controlled infinitive (the matrix and complement have identical subjects) and an active non-controlled gerund complement, semantically equivalent to the passive infinitive. A passive gerund is likewise allowed. Examples are given in (31) and (32):

(31) He deserves to be hanged for this.

He deserves hanging for this.

(32) a. Charles Beresford will require looking after one of these days.

  1. The house wants painting and papering shamefully.
  2. Only two small incidents need mentioning.

There is a larger class of exercitive verbs of communication which select an infinitive of control when in the main clause there is an indirect object, serving as controller. If there is no personal indirect object in the sentence, then these verbs select ing complements, or, if possible, they take an Accusative + Infinitive complement. These possibilities are illustrated in (33). Some of the relevant verbs are the following: allow, permit, advise, suggest, propose, recommend, prescribe, suffer, forbid, telephone, urge, etc.

(33) a. He allowed Tom [PRO to smoke].

He didn’t allow [there to be any dancing in the room]. (Acc+Inf)

The infinitive of control in (33a) is appropriate when there is interaction between the referents of the Subject and Indirect Object. The Indirect Object is the permitee in the permission granting act. In examples (33 b-d), no permitee is actually expressed. It is suggested that the matrix Su has enough authority to make a more formal pronouncement. Notice in (33), (34) that the gerund’s subject is often unspecified, rather than arbitrary generic.

(34) a. I advised her to wait until the proper time. / I advised waiting till the proper time.

  1. I forbid you to smoke here. / Smoking cigars in the child’s room is strictly forbidden.
  2. I recommend you to buy this dictionary. / I recommend buying this dictionary.

Other differences between V ing and to V complements of the same verb characterize very small groups of verbs, but they are not unpredictable in the light of our discussion so far. The verbs remember, recollect, recall, report, observe, perceive, notice are non-active in the Accusative + Infinitive construction (35a), but have a active interpretation when used with the gerund complements (35b).

(35) a. They reported the enemy to have suffered a decisive defeat.

They reported the enemy’s having suffered a decisive defeat.

The second example implies that the report was true in the speaker’s opinion, while the first leaves open the possibility that the report was false. Consider more examples, which bring out the same contrast:

(36) a. I remembered him to be bald so I was surprised to see him with long hair.

I remembered his being bald so I brought a wig and disguised him.

The gerund reifies the event, (to use the expression of Bolinger (1977)), which may be understood as past, even when it is not marked so. Thus, they resented his being away is ambiguous as to the time reference of the gerund, and on one prong of the ambiguity, is synonymous with They resented his having been away. In contrast, the infinitive is understood as simultaneous or future with respect to the main clause. If a past reading is intended, it has to be marked on the complement verb. Thus, They suppose him to be away cannot mean They supposed him to have been away.

(37) a. He could not remember coming from the bar to the chapel.

  1. I didn’t remember to post the letter, so I still have it with me.
  2. I shall never forget seeing her. (= ‘having seen her’, active reading) d. I forgot to tell my sister about the party. (… so I was surprised when she came.)

And there is contrast:

(38) I regret to say that you are a fool.

I regret saying that you are a fool.

The verb try + ing is implicative, indicating that the complement clause action did take place. In contrast, the construction try to V suggests a difficult or unsuccessful attempt.

It can be compared:

(39) a. He tried speaking French, but wasn’t understood.

He tried to speak French, but couldn’t.

Finally notice that, for some verbs, different meanings correspond to different choices of complement constructions.

The verb mean + inf has the same sense of ‘intend’ or ‘signify’, while mean + ing is used only in the sense of ‘signify’.

(40) a. He means to run over France. / *running over France.

To serve such a man would mean doing / to do something worth doing.

The verb want expressing volition takes an infinitive complement; want meaning ‘be in need of’ takes both kinds of complement.

(41) a. I don’t want to tell you.

The door needs to be painted / painting.

The verb stop allows the ing as a DO, but takes an infinitive only as adverbial of purpose. There is clear syntactic and semantic difference between (36a.) and (36b).

(42) a. When he has working, he would stop to take a few pipes of his pipe.

He stopped smoking cigars at table.