What's the difference between "I love singing" and "I love to sing"?

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I would like to know what the difference is between "I love doing something" and "I love to do something".

For example:

  1. “I love singing.”

and,

  1. “I love to sing.”

When I was young, I was told that "love doing something" is right, but one day, I found Jessie J wrote "I love to sing" on her Instagram.

Laila

Posted 2015-03-21T12:11:16.663

Reputation: 113

2

Tell that to Owl Jolson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytR7-wT0Qqw (Seriously, this is a classic cartoon.)

– Ben Kovitz – 2015-03-21T12:52:06.490

6One difference is: Note that "I love to sing" has the meaning that "I sing", while that meaning is only a possible implicature in "I love singing" since the speaker there might have only meant that they like hearing others sing. – F.E. – 2015-03-21T18:42:46.917

1@F.E. Note though that that's only if singing is a noun ; -) It's not true if singing is a verb. (and the OP's clearly asking about the difference in meaning between the verbs - as the -ing has a direct object above the examples). – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T06:12:12.937

Answers

6

By1) I love singing.

2) I love to sing.

Love is one of the verbs that takes after it either a to-infinitive or an -ing form, without any difference in meaning.

No doubt, according to grammar, although both sentences should convey the same meaning, the sentence #1 is a bit ambiguous. This ambiguity arises because "singing" is not only a verb (present participle) but also a noun that means an act or performance of singing. So the sentence may also be understood to mean that you love to hear singing or love to hear people sing. However, if there is an object after "singing" such as I love singing songs/this song, there is not an iota of doubt that you love to sing.

Khan

Posted 2015-03-21T12:11:16.663

Reputation: 26 261

F.E. gave a good answer. When he said "possible implicature" that means the sentence might imply... --- but there are good answers now, e.g. Araucaria's. – Brian Hitchcock – 2015-03-24T05:21:19.017

Brian Hitchcock,/Would you please answer in light of the comments. – Khan – 2015-03-22T16:39:27.220

@BrianHitchcock Who has given a correct answer in the comments? – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T06:14:20.540

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Meaning

I love to do that

I love doing that

In many, if not most situations these two sentences can be used interchangeably. But they can have very slightly different meanings too. When we use verbs like like, love, hate plus an -ING form, it generally means that we like, love or hate something while we are actually doing it. When we say that we like, love or hate TO DO something, it means that we like love or hate the practice or effect. This is easiest to show with the verb LIKE.

We usually use like to do something when we mean that we like the effect of doing something, or we think it is a good idea to do this thing because of its wider effects:

  • If I need (to get) a tooth pulled out, I like to go to the dentist.

This would imply that it's a sensible thing to do. In contrast, we usually use like doing something when we find the experience itself pleasurable or enjoyable. Consider this version of the sentence:

  • If I need (to get) a tooth pulled out, I like going to the dentist.

This would tend to imply that you were a bit of a masochist! It means that you actually enjoy going to the dentist.

Another way to think about it, is that when you say "like doing it" you like it while you are doing it. When you say like to do it it means you like it after you've done it.

With the verb LOVE, it's more difficult to find a clear situation where you will love to do something but hate doing it. It is perhaps possible. Consider:

  • I would love to be in charge, but I would hate actually being in charge.

NOTE

The information above is true for British English and for other varieties such as Australian and New Zealand English. These differences have been well documented in various grammar sources. However, it seems from comments here that for some varieties of American English, there is no difference between like to do and like doing. See F.E.'s comments below for further information.

Grammar

In the phrases love to do it and love doing it, we understand that the subject of LOVE is the same as the subject of DO. Very often though, we can also find nouns that end in -ing [sometimes we can make nouns ending in _ing]. For example, there is a noun singing. Many nouns, like the noun singing, describe actions. When we use the NOUN singing and we don't say who the actual singer is, then it can be anybody:

  • I love to sing jazz.
  • I love singing jazz.
  • I love singing.

The first sentence says that I love the habit or practice of singing jazz. Maybe I love to do it at certain times or for certain occasions. The second sentence says that I really enjoy singing jazz. In the third example singing does not have a direct object. This word could be a noun or a verb. If it's the noun then this sentence means that I love listening to people singing jazz. If it's the verb it means that I love doing the singing. If it's a noun we will use an adjective to describe the singing. If it's a verb we will use an adverb:

  • I love quiet singing.
  • I love quietly singing / singing quietly.

The first sentence means I like it when other people sing quietly. The second sentence means that I like to sing quietly myself.

Araucaria - Not here any more.

Posted 2015-03-21T12:11:16.663

Reputation: 25 536

"If I need a tooth pulling out" <-- In my AmE dialect, we say "If I need a tooth *pulled* out". – F.E. – 2015-03-23T07:29:57.003

@F.E. Yes, I know see comments above! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T07:31:27.033

@F.E. Just wondering, does the ING form of like sound stranger with If I need a tooth pulled out, I like going to the dentist ? – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T07:34:35.900

@F.E. I wonder if that's a pond thing ... I'm going to delete the first half and then see what the guys at work think before doing a rollback. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T07:38:07.000

Here's an excerpt, which might possibly be taken out of context, from Change in Contemporary English (Leech et al.), page 185: "Seen in the long historical term, however, the situation is clear. The infinitives were there first, and the gerund came later, . . . and additionally show that the reversal of preferences in favor of the gerund is of very recent origin, in fact an entirely twentieth-century phenomenon." -- Though, I'm not sure how relevant that excerpt is to our discussion. – F.E. – 2015-03-23T07:52:12.537

Found something related in CGEL, "5.6.1 To-infinitival vs gerund-participial", pages 1240-4, especially section on "Verbs of liking (and not liking)" with [52] on page 1242: "I like [to stay / staying] at home at weekends". – F.E. – 2015-03-23T08:28:04.607

@f.e. Also, I was wondering whether "enjoy to do something" is grammatical for you? – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T08:38:29.250

Well, maybe something somewhat like it for "would like"; and on page 1241 there is the usual stuff like: "The gerund-participial, by contrast, is commonly associated with what is current and actual, as in They enjoy walking, …" – F.E. – 2015-03-23T08:39:39.983

@F.E. Thanks. I agree that it makes little or no difference in a lot of cases, but I suppose I reckon it's the cases that are different that are worth mentioning. I'll have a ponder on't ... :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T16:25:59.370

1@Araucaria It's your wording that I'm questioning: it's making it sound like that a EFL speaker should expect that the two versions will usually have different meanings. I'm of the camp that thinks that kind of statement is way too strong. That if anything, that it is rather unusual when there is a basic difference in meaning--but textbooks tend to provide those types of examples, and so, give a false impression. imo. – F.E. – 2015-03-23T16:30:08.973

1@F.E. OK, will have a ponder and fiddle about with it when I get back. Monday social programme to attend to! (or if you want to do an edit, I trust you!) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T16:31:28.973

"If I need (to get) a tooth pulled out, I like going to the dentist." This would tend to imply that you were a bit of a masochist! It means that you actually enjoy going to the dentist. <-- I disagree here. That example usually means something more related to *preference* (where the less preferred alternatives would be understood from context, such as a preference to go to the dentist over going to the butcher for tooth extraction, or preference to go to the dentist than to do nothing at all). … – F.E. – 2015-03-23T18:21:38.833

(cont.) In a different context, then it could have that meaning that you gave it: e.g. "I like going to the dentist, because afterwards my parents buy me all the ice cream I can eat for a whole week!" But I don't think that is a typical type of meaning when it involves going to the dentist. Also, you can get the same meaning with the to-V: "I like to go to the dentist, because afterwards my parents buy me all the ice cream I can eat for a whole week!" – F.E. – 2015-03-23T18:21:43.850

1@F.E. In BE those obs don't seem to hold. The I like going to the dentist type sentences just sound plain weird to us! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-24T11:22:52.060

2"When you say like to do it it means you like it after you've done it." <-- Er, after I've gone to the dentist, my mouth is all numb and I'm drooling all over myself, and so, I am not in a state where I like having gone to the dentist! Maybe you like drooling all over yourself! :D – F.E. – 2015-03-23T07:18:37.703

Nice. Few small things, "If I need a tooth pulled out" not pulling. For your last example, I'd argue people would generally reverse the two words (singing quietly). – Catija – 2015-03-23T07:19:00.470

@Catija Ah, over here (UK), I can't say "need a tooth pulled out". – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T07:24:02.833

@F.E. +1 can you think of a better way of saying it! EDIT, wish you wouldn't do that when I have a mouth full of coffee!! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T07:24:44.717

1Wha? That's crazy... "pulling" sounds so wrong to me! HA HA! – Catija – 2015-03-23T07:25:01.583

@Catija Yes, I know - differences between Gen AM and SSBE are really weird. In Scottish English your version would be preferable, but down here in blighty, it's not grammatical for us! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T07:27:05.237

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As said by the comments:

In I love to sing, the verb "love" is said to control the subject of the verb "sing", resulting in the phenomenon often called equivalent noun phrase deletion (equi-NP deletion). Basically, in this construction, the subject of the subordinate verb is constrained to be the same as the subject of the main clause. The underlying semantic structure would be "I love: (I sing)".

I love singing is ambiguous. The word "singing" can be seen as general activity of singing (where I express my appreciation of listening to songs), where the subject (and all other thematic roles) are left unspecified and made vague by the nominalisation (good example of political rhetoric pattern here: "The pollution" - who polluted? shrug).

Or, it can be seen as a gerund complement that means the same as the case with the infinitive in it, with the same control phenomenon (compare: I love singing blues which can't get the first, unrestricted interpretation - but is itself then syntactically ambiguous, with the other meaning being "I love blues which sing").

Amadan

Posted 2015-03-21T12:11:16.663

Reputation: 351

-1 (for the moment, sorry). This is not true, old bean! "Love" controls the subject of the verb after it regardless of whether its an -ing form or an infinitive. It is only if we use the NOUN "singing", that we can interpret the singer freely. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T06:09:33.443

1@Araucaria: You are correct, let me see if I can rephrase. – Amadan – 2015-03-23T06:14:47.683

@Araucaria: Better? – Amadan – 2015-03-23T06:24:13.143

Yes, it is I think :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T07:14:18.830

2

Since, now the question is edited, I'm rewriting the answer with a bit different approach.

The verb you are concerned is 'love'. Now all verbs have their patterns. This means what verbs take after them depends on the verb. Some verbs take infinitive, some take '-ing', and there are many other patterns.

Getting back to your 'verb' -love. Now this special verb takes both -to+verb and -ing. This means, it can have both

I love singing (verb taking 'ing')
I love to sing (verb taking to+verb)

Good read about verb pattern is here on the BBC.


It is good to know that if you are talking about your hobby, the construction I love singing is more common.

Maulik V

Posted 2015-03-21T12:11:16.663

Reputation: 66 188

If "singing" is your hobby, it can't be a noun!!!!! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T08:52:58.020

1@Araucaria this is new to me then. Kindly explain these: My singing is not bad because singing is my hobby and I practice it daily. – Maulik V – 2015-03-23T09:26:57.560

@MaulikV Sorry, should have specified that in the sentence I like singing, the word singing can't be a noun if it's referring to your hobby. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T09:35:06.287

2@Araucaria Are you using the word noun in an esoteric sense? In ordinary language, singing is a noun, even if it refers to a hobby, even in "I like singing". – Ben Kovitz – 2015-03-23T10:10:15.130

@BenKovitz You could read the end of my post, that covers it really. If it's a noun then you should be able to say I like quiet singing, but when you say that it obviously means you like other people's singing. But because it's a verb, if it refer's to your own singing, you'll say I like singing quietly / I like quietly singing. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T10:38:31.830

1@BenKovitz And in addition, in I like singing (I like doing it), "singing" is the same singing as in I like singing songs. This is basic proof that "singing" there is a verb - nouns can't take direct objects, only prepositional phrases. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T10:41:53.717

1@Araucaria Thanks, now I think I understand what you're getting at. It still seems to me like an esoteric use of noun, but there seems to be a lot of competing terminology out there for how to describe the many roles that -ing words can play. Another one I've come across is verbal noun as opposed to gerund: in that terminology, a gerund still plays the role of a noun, but it also can have a subject, direct objects, and adverbs (just like an infinitive), but a verbal noun can't. But I think that terminology is fairly esoteric, too. – Ben Kovitz – 2015-03-23T10:45:28.577

@BenKovitz I suppose the most important thing is that Ss understand that of there is a verb afterwards and there's no overt subject, then the subject of the infinitive/-ing is controlled by the subject of the head verb. When there's a noun (of any description, i.e. it does not need to be one derived from a verb) neither the actor not the patient are determined by the head verb. Also, if it's a verb we can expect it to be modified by an adverb and have the same complements as a normal verb, we can't do this with nouns. So long as students can predict this, terminology's not important :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-23T10:58:10.320

Er, are you sure that "singing" can't be a verb in "I love singing"? (Consider, for example, "I love singing songs".) Could you provide us readers with some evidence that "singing" in the OP's example is a noun? – F.E. – 2015-03-21T18:46:56.247

There's also possible differences in meaning between the OP's two examples. Would you please show some of that to the readers. – F.E. – 2015-03-21T18:53:02.717

1I love singing has a slight issue of not implying the speaker is the one doing the singing... it can mean that someone just likes to hear singing. I love to sing is clear, the speaker enjoys to sing themselves. – Catija – 2015-03-22T05:03:48.700