What's the difference in meaning between infinitive and gerund?


(1) They love to walk in the woods.
(Angela Downing, English Grammar: A University Course)

(2) They love walking in the woods.

She says (1) will be interpreted as potential, while a gerund means actual or habitual. But, in fact, they seem to be very similar. How do I understand the difference in meaning?


Posted 2013-04-23T10:54:03.180

Reputation: 25 811

Question was closed 2016-11-24T02:12:42.693

2I think Prof. Downing is "sometimes sorta" right (which is often as close as you can get in semantics); but I agree with you that her example doesn't corroborate her insight. They mean the same thing. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-04-23T11:08:06.497

(2) is not hers, but mine. So I might have uploaded not proper sentence to compare, i fear. – Listenever – 2013-04-23T11:11:48.490

It would be useful to see a little more of Downing's context. Does she perhaps mean that infinitives tend to be used with verbs of anticipation (expect, plan) while gerunds tend to be used with stative verbs? – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-04-23T11:19:59.997

This example is made for the 'affective processes: loving and hating - like, love, please, delight, dislike, hate, detest; want, and wish. And this is part of her mention before the example:“The situation is represented as actual or habitual by means of an –ing clause, while a to-infinitive clause will be interpreted as potential. For this reason, the latter is used in hypothetical meanings.” – Listenever – 2013-04-23T11:36:59.880

Seems very dubious to me. She has a point, but I suspect it's of statistical interest only: it won't tell you what to use in any given case. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-04-23T11:53:40.957

1ummm, I can see it. I love to walk in the woods. But, living in suburbia, it's been ages since I've had the opportunity. My country cousins however, love walking in the woods. They go hiking 3 or 4 times a week. – mcalex – 2013-04-23T17:21:59.517

"They love to walk" reminds me of "They would like to walk (but circumstances prevent this)", whereas "They love walking" reminds me of "They are walking, actually." Thus I support Prof. Downing and mcalex, but this is just based on my "feeling for the language". – Stephen – 2013-04-23T18:36:35.563

What is the difference between "gerund" and "infinitive"? doesn't address what this question is about, which is the difference in meaning between the two grammatical forms. So, I'm voting to reopen it. – Ben Kovitz – 2015-03-21T18:36:42.050



I've studied Spanish and German, and so I've had to look up the difference a few times to refresh my memory.

A gerund is when the verb ends in -ing. Like skiing, being, running.

A gerund can be used when you're treating the verb as a subject of the sentence as in 'Skiing is fun.' A gerund is often used with the past tense as in 'When I was running, I got hit by a bus.'

A infinitive is always where you use the word with 'to' the be. As in 'I like to ski', 'Those kids need to be quiet', 'I have to run to the store'.


Posted 2013-04-23T10:54:03.180

Reputation: 522

2This doesn't answer the question, which is about the difference in meaning between an infinitive and a gerund, I'm not sure there is a difference in meaning, but that's different than explaining the difference in grammatical form or where they go in a sentence. – Ben Kovitz – 2015-03-21T18:32:24.150