Gerund or infinitive?

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There is no obstacle to registering the company.

OR

There is no obstacle to register the company.

Notice that the first sentence uses the -ing form of the verb. This is called a gerund. The gerund is the name of an activity; hence, it is actually a noun. Sometimes we say a gerund is a verb used as a noun. (Remember, the 8 parts of speech are really based on the usage of words, so the same or similar words can easily be two or more different parts of speech.)

The first sentence is right, but why?

I’ve had an ongoing conversation with a client about the rules for using gerunds vs. infinitives. To me, the point was that you can substitute a gerund with another noun. There is no obstacle to his plan.

But I found this nifty rule on myenglishpages.com: Use an infinitive for activities in the future and use an gerund for activities before or at the same time as the main verb.

Now, this rule can be broken regularly, so let’s call it a rule of thumb. Certain verbs that indicate actions that will be in the future will likely take an infinitive:

I want to…

I intend to…

I plan to…

Part of the problem is that “to” is part of the infinitive form in English. But “to” is a preposition, and we often use a gerund after a preposition.

I am a fan of playing…

I like dessert after eating dinner…

I admit to stealing…

So my suggestion to sort this out is to ask whether or not the preposition “to” is necessary for the preceding verb. If so, then you should use a gerund.

Here’s a sentence I came across in a Master’s thesis I was editing:

Moreover, the work of Slamanig (2012) adds that economic factors will change the demand/supply model of the industry and will be crucial to understand the future of that market.

Should it be “crucial to understanding…”?

I think yes, for the following reasons.

1. “to” is needed for crucial.

2. “crucial to” can be followed by a noun.

Now, even my second reason is not sufficient, since the sentence “It is crucial to understand gravity if you want to skateboard” is perfectly correct.

But this sentence could also be rearranged into “Understanding gravity is crucial to skateboarding.”

Notice how in these two examples, the form of the two verbs was the same in each example. Either they were both gerunds or they were both infinitives.

Got questions about English grammar? Please use the link to the right to ask an editor.