Easy English Grammar

‘-ing’ or ‘to’? Part 2: subjects, objects and ‘extra information’

“-ing” or “to”? Everthing you need to know. Part 2: as subject, object and “extra information”

This is part 2 of a series of posts on “-ing” and “to,” a.k.a. gerund and infinitive. Click here for part 1.


Back in December I introduced you to these lovely people. Do you remember them?

The "to" man: pushes to the future, thinks about the result (not the process)

The "-ing" lady: feels the experience, focuses on the process (not the result)

These are the “-ing” lady and the “to” man. They’re both great people, but with very different personalities.

The “to” man is all about plans and goals. He’s super organised and is always thinking about his next move. He thinks more about the result than the experience.

The “-ing” lady is very different. She likes doing things and is always interested in the experience of actions and not so much the result.

In the last post about these guys, we looked at how they work after verbs.

But “-ing” lady and “to” man are busy people and we don’t just meet them simply after verbs.

In fact, English is crowded with “-ing” and “to” verbs.

So when are the other times we use them?

“-ing” and “to” as subject and object

A long, long, long time ago (last October) I wrote a post about sentence structure.

In short, I identified the four main parts of the sentence: the subject, verb, object and the “extra information.”

I colour coded them to show the sentence structure more clearly, which resulted in this beauty:

English sentence structure: [subject, blue] This image [verb, red] demonstrates [object, blue] grammar [extra information, black] with colours.

The last post about “-ing” lady and “to” man showed you how they work with verbs. But they are so busy that they can appear in either subject, object or “extra information.”

English sentence structure: subject + verb + object + extra information

“-ing” and “to” as subject

Here’s a question for you:

Why does Hamlet say, “To be, or not to be” and not, “Being or not being”?

That is the question.

There are actually two ways to explain this. But first, let’s remind ourselves of the context of this very famous quote.

One reason why Hamlet is such a popular play is that we can see Hamlet slowly going mad throughout the play. He becomes more detached from reality and relationships.

Remember that “to” man is not interested in experiences? He prefers results and usually looks at actions in a more philosophical way.

So one of the reasons Shakespeare decided that Hamlet should say “to be” and not “being” is that “to be” shows more detachment. This helps express Hamlet’s madness.

But there’s a more simple reason.

When deciding whether “to be” or “not to be,” Hamlet is trying to make a decision (to kill himself or not). Decisions are all about planning and “pushing” to the future. And planning for the future is exactly what “to” man likes to do.

“to” as subject is detached, philosophical and "pushes" to the future.

Here’s another question:

Which of these sentences sound more natural:

Swimming is difficult.

To swim is difficult.

Remember that “-ing” lady is all about experience and “to” man is more objective and scientific. So, here’s how each of them would think about these sentences:

“-ing” or “to” as subject: Swimming is difficult. To swim is difficult.

Look at these pictures. Which one expresses what we really mean?

When we want to talk about something based on experience, we should use “-ing.”

“-ing” as subject is about experience

Generally speaking, we usually use “-ing” as the subject if we want to sound natural.

“-ing” and “to” as object

We can also use actions, either “-ing” actions or “to” actions, as objects in a sentence.

Like with subjects, we can usually use both. And like with subjects, the “-ing” choice is usually more natural.

But we always have a choice, and sometimes we want to express different things.

Look at these two lists:

“-ing” or “to” as object - My duties are talking to the giraffe... My goals are to find all the best giraffes...

This clearly makes sense, right? “-ing” lady is feeling the experience of her duties while “to” man is pushing to the future with his goals.

But what do we do when it’s unclear which one to use?

The most dangerous part of my job is feeding the giraffe.

The most dangerous part of my job is to feed the giraffe.

Both of these sentences are correct and both of them mean the same thing.

The difference here is the feeling.

When we use “-ing,” we’re imagining the experience of feeding the giraffe.

When we use “to” we’re imagining feeding the giraffe as part of everything else.

“-ing” or “to” - The most dangerous part of my job is feeding the giraffe. The most dangerous part of my job is to feed the giraffe.

“-ing” and “to” as “extra information”

English sentence structure: [subject, blue] This image [verb, red] demonstrates [object, blue] grammar [extra information, black] with colours.

“Extra information” is the place in the English sentence where magic happens.

There are lots and lots of things we can express in the “extra information” part. Here are how the “to” man and the “-ing” lady like hanging out here:

“-ing” and “to” with adjectives

Adjectives are the “to” man’s friend.

Why do they have such a good relationship?

It doesn’t really make sense, does it? Adjectives are often subjective and “to” man is much more objective.

But opposites attract.

When we attach “to” man to an adjective, it creates a beautifully balanced sentence.

We give an objective feeling to a subjective phrase.

So although we can use “-ing” as a subject with an adjective:

Swimming is difficult.

…when we want to make this feeling less subjective, “to” man hangs out with the adjective in the object. What about the subject? It doesn’t matter — we can just use “it.”

To after adjectives: Swimming is difficult. It's difficult to swim.

“-ing” and “to” to give reasons

“To” man also likes hanging out by himself in the “extra information” section. (He’s really busy, even when he’s by himself.)

We can add “to” to the end of a sentence to answer the question “why?”

Let’s look at this sentence:

He met the giraffe at midnight.

It’s a perfectly normal sentence by itself. But there’s something missing.

Don’t you want to know why he met the giraffe at midnight? What’s going on here? Should we call the police?

So we can use “to” man to explain why:

He met the giraffe at midnight to help him pack his bags.

See? Just a perfectly normal explanation. No police required.

Noun + “-ing” to explain what someone/something is doing

I don’t want to sound too much like a grammar geek — but this is one of my favourite pieces of grammar ever.

This shows that although “-ing” lady is quite emotional and nostalgic, she can be very efficient when she wants to be.

Let’s look at these sentences:

Beth met a lot of giraffes. The giraffes were eating pasta.

It’s good English, right? Well — technically, yes. But it’s a bit unnatural. How can we make it a little cleaner?

Relative clause example: Beth met some giraffes who were eating pasta.

(By the way, this grammar structure is called a relative clause.)

OK. No problem, right?

But we can take this a step further by introducing the “-ing” lady:

Participle clause examples: Beth met some giraffes [who were] eating pasta.

Now that’s a superhero grammar character right there! See how she just cleaned that sentence up like a pro?

Participle clause examples: I looked at the giraffe playing the banjo. When he arrived, he listened to the band playing Rammstein. She ran away from the elephant running towards her.

But there’s more!

For some strange reason, “-ing” lady’s powers are so strong that she can do this with both the continuous tenses and the simple tenses.

Participle clause examples: Barbara's the new architect working here. There are too many people only showering once a week. I only trust giraffes investing in Microsoft.

(Can you guess the covered words?)


So there we are, the world of “to” man and “-ing” lady with subjects, verbs and “extra information.”

If you missed part 1 of “to” man and “-ing” lady (after verbs) click here.

There will be one more post on “to” man and “-ing” lady in the future, where I deal with all the other random places they turn up.

And I promise there won’t be so many giraffes next time.

Got any questions?

Have I missed anything?

Are you a big fan of giraffes, too?

Then go ahead and comment!

6 thoughts on “‘-ing’ or ‘to’? Part 2: subjects, objects and ‘extra information’

  1. Re: “Hamlet”
    Well, I prefer the third version, actually — a sketch called “A Small Rewrite”, performed by Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson in 1989.

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