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Teaching Gerunds and Infinitives: Lesson Plans

Day One Part 2: Forms and Usage [Allow students time to take notes as you go along]

  1. Write an example of a gerund on the board and ask if anyone knows the formula for how to make it. Elicit suggestions and write the correct formula on the board.

        gerund = base verb + ing

  2. Do the same thing with an example of an infinitive.

        infinitive = to + base verb


Remind students that gerunds and infinitives do the same jobs that nouns do and begin to demonstrate this with using gerunds as subjects.

  1. Ask for an action verb [for example eat], and write it on the board.
  2. Make a sentence using eat as a gerund subject.

        Eating too many burgers is a bad idea.

  3. Ask students: "Where is the verb?". Often they will say eating. Remind them of the formula for a gerund [base verb + ing] and ask them again to find the verb. Label the verb for them in the sentence.
  4. Ask students: "Where is the subject?". If they can't identify the subject, show them that everything before the verb is the subject. As far as the meaning is concerned, it's the thing that equals a bad idea.
  5. Expand the example sentence and again ask them to identify the subject.

        Eating too many burgers at McBurgers is a bad idea. -[It's still everything before the verb.]

  6. Expand it one more time to drive home the point.

        Eating too many burgers at McBurgers with a hungry bear is a bad idea.

    The point is to show that we can use gerunds [and infinitives] to add more information into our subject than we could with just using a noun. Point out that in the interest of clarity, obviously there are limits to just how long we want to make our subject.

        Eating too many burgers at McBurgers with a hungry bear and a tiger on the weekend... is a bad idea.

  7. At this point, erase the gerund in your sentences and replace it with an infinitive [To eat]. Then ask students if the meaning has changed. [It does not.]. Thus, we can use either form to make a subject.

Special notes: -[Let students know about these.]

  • Gerund or infinitive subject sentences are often made with a be verb, but actions verbs can work too.

        Eating/To eat too many burgers makes Tom sick.

  • The subject-verb agreement with gerund/infinitive subjects is always third-person-singular unless you have two gerunds or two infinitives in the subject.

        Eating too many burgers and drinking too much Coke are bad ideas.

  • If you do have two gerunds/infinitives in the subject, parallelism requires that they both be gerunds or both be infinitives -no mixing.

        Eating too many burgers and to drink too much Coke are bad ideas. -[not correct]

  • Some common mistakes that students make in using infinitives as subjects include:

    1. Making an infinitive phrase instead of a subject:

          To get an A you should study hard.

      Although the grammar is correct in the sentence above, The infinitive is not the subject. The word "you" is the subject of the sentence. The infinitive is just part of an infinitive phrase. This can become easier for students to see when you re-write the sentence in reverse...

          You should study hard to get an A.

    2. Mis-matched subject-verb meaning: To avoid the infinitive phrase, sometimes students will write something like...

          To get an A should study hard.

      Since the subject is the one who is doing the action, ask the student: "Who should study hard?" "Is the answer to get an A?" [The answer is some missing student.]

Practice:  Give students ten verbs and ask them to make five gerund subject and five infinitive subject sentences. Add more sentences if you think they need more practice to get the concept. [If you're also teaching paraphrasing in the writing class, you can tie this lesson in with how to use gerund/infinitive subjects to change the grammar of a sentence.]


page last modified: August 9, 2016

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