"He intends leaving tomorrow"

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He intends to leave tomorrow. (1)

He intends leaving tomorrow. (2)

(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language)

CGEL says there’s no discernible difference between the two, yet I imagine some difference from the ‘be+~ing’ meaning. This presents a plan / intention and implies near future. Although the adjunct, tomorrow, weakens the meaning of the plan or near future, (2) still has the meaning of your intentionality or volition, I guess. Can it be the proper difference?

Listenever

Posted 2013-10-19T14:47:32.963

Reputation: 25 811

3It seems to me CGEL correctly says there's "no discernible difference between the two", so I don't see how ELL can meaningfully supply answers justifying your (mistaken) impression that there *is* a difference. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-10-19T15:37:02.553

4I agree with CGEL. But I have to say that a gerund complement--or indeed any frankly nominal complement--falls very old-fashioned on my ear. I have a dim recollection of seeing a corpus study on this -- I'll try to track it down. ... More generally, I've never seen ANY treatment which convincingly drew semantic distinctions between the various English futurives. For now I continue to believe that it is prosody and discourse context which governs these uses. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-10-19T15:46:19.683

3As both Stoney and Fumble say it's correct, I'll accept that it is, but He intends leaving tomorrow sounds completely incorrect to me. I would have told you in no uncertain terms it was wrong, had I not read their comments first. So I would at least say it is not idiomatic, and that you should use to leave instead. – WendiKidd – 2013-10-19T18:26:16.737

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From Google Ngrams, it appears that the "he intends leaving" construction has fallen into disuse over the last 50 years. I expect that in another 50 years, it will be considered ungrammatical. If people had generally perceived a difference, I expect that both constructions would have remained in use. I agree with @WendiKidd: use "to leave".

– Peter Shor – 2013-10-19T22:58:12.553

@Mari-LouA Interesting link! I'm fine with all their examples except intend contacting. That one sounds just as wrong to me as the example in the question does. – WendiKidd – 2013-10-19T23:07:04.633

@WendiKidd I would have said the same, my immediate reaction was that intend plus any verb-ing is wrong, although "I intend going to the police" doesn't sound that strange but it could be auto-suggestion! :) – Mari-Lou A – 2013-10-19T23:59:44.513

2An important note. CGEL argues that there is no difference in meaning. – Alex B. – 2013-10-20T17:01:50.797

2BNC: intend* VVG 2.2 per million, intend* TO0 63.2 per million; COCA: intend* vvg 26, intend* to 4489. The infinitive after "intend" is much more common in both BrE and AmE. – Alex B. – 2013-10-20T21:53:38.620

In that situation I'd say, "He intends on leaving" or "He intends to leave" – Jim – 2013-10-21T03:50:14.287

Why is this on ELL and not on English.se? – SF. – 2013-10-25T15:27:26.813

@SF Of course there's no reason it couldn't be on ELU; but questions of this sort are of concern to learners, and there's no reason it shouldn't be here. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-10-26T15:23:04.357

Answers

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One of the hot topics among English-language linguists is the ‘Great Complement Shift’—the apparently well-established fact that for about four hundred years speakers have been drifting away from infinitive non-finite complements and toward gerund non-finite complements. You'll find a comfortably brief discussion in 3.4 of this draft of a forthcoming book chapter.

It’s important to note, however, that this trend has no predictive value at all. There are many verbs which exhibit the opposite tendency, away from gerunds and towards infinitives. This paper, for instance, aptly titled ‘Swimming against the tide of the Great Complement Shift’, identifies prefer and continue as two such verbs.

Intend is another such. The Comments to your question show how distasteful WendiKidd, Mari-LouA and I find the use with gerund complements, and our instinct is corroborated by the corpus data cited by Alex B. The Google NGram which Peter Shor links suggests, and the one below appears to confirm, that use with the gerund has never been as common as that with the infinitive, and has steadily become less common over the past century.

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Use with the gerund is basically a 19th-century alternative: perfectly correct, but unusual today.

As for a distinction in meaning, I think it very unlikely, unless you suppose that 19th-century writers were two or three times more likely to have firm short-term intentions than their modern counterparts.

When you're dealing with an individual verb, the distinct between infinitive or gerund or FOR .. TO .. or that complementation is certainly meaningful. But I'm very dubious about claims that such distinctions have any global significance; and even if such significance could be shown, it would still be irrelevant to individual cases, which should always be suspected of Swimming Against the Tide.

StoneyB on hiatus

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