"keep starting to follow me" or "keep starting following me"?

2

I'd like to say: "Several guys keep starting to follow me" or do I instead say "...keep starting following me."?

I got confused just now and both versions sound really wrong, and since I am not a native speaker, I thought I'd ask here.

Anetana

Posted 2016-08-27T22:01:02.633

Reputation:

I think you want to say either "some guys keep following me" or "some guys start following me". – None – 2016-08-27T22:06:21.130

How exactly does one keep starting to follow someone? That would imply that they start to follow you, then stop following you, then start again, then stop again, then start again, etc. That sounds like rather an unusual thing for several people to be doing—is that really what you're trying to express? – Janus Bahs Jacquet – 2016-08-27T22:12:37.237

1I don't see how either version makes any sense. (Though perhaps if you explained the context they would.) – Hot Licks – 2016-08-27T22:35:32.027

Answers

2

The crux here is the verb start, which can take a verbal object in two ways: as a to-infinitive or as a gerund (-ing-form).

There are various other verbs that can do this. Sometimes the two constructions mean different things (for example stopped to do X = ‘came to a halt in order to do X’ vs. stopped doing X = ‘no longer did X’); other times, the two constructions mean the same (as with start, begin, or prefer). The following two sentences mean the same thing:

He started running.
He started to run

In those cases where the two constructions mean the same thing, it is usually the surrounding syntax that determines which one you use: it is normally desirable to avoid repeating the same syntactic construction if possible, and repeated to-infinitives or gerunds are generally avoided by selecting the other possible construction.

This means that in your example, a to-infinitive would be the normal form. Keep can only take a verbal object as a gerund, whereas start can take either; so to avoid two gerunds in a row, the other possible option is chosen:

Several guys keep starting to follow me.

It's a bit of an odd example, though, since it implies some rather unusual behaviour. In the right context, of course, it can make sense, though:

I think I'm being watched by the mafia or something. Several guys keep starting to follow me as soon as I leave the house, but then disappear soon after.

A perhaps somewhat less contrived and more natural-sounding example could be something like this:

Bloody weather! It keeps starting to rain every time I go outside, and then stopping again the second I'm back indoors!

And of course, if you had a sentence where the preceding verb (or verbal phrase) could only take a verbal object as an infinitive, start would instead take its object as a gerund:

It's important to start saving early in life; otherwise you may find yourself with insufficient pension funds when you retire.

In both cases, it is possible to use the other option as well (‘keep starting following’ and ‘important to start to save’), but it is much, much less common, and it tends to sound quite clumsy. As you are a non-native speaker, I would advise you to always choose the option that yields the least repetition.

Janus Bahs Jacquet

Posted 2016-08-27T22:01:02.633

Reputation: 371