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Teaching Gerunds and Infinitives to ESL Students

Written by tutor Patricia M.

Probably one of the most difficult concepts an ESL student has to understand and apply when learning the English language is that of the gerund. Many languages, particularly the Romance Languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, all national languages) have the infinitive forms of their verbs, and students are taught to conjugate them to express verbs with respect to voices, modes, tenses, and persons (first, second, and third person). But most Asian languages do not conjugate their verbs, or, if they do conjugate, they do so very differently than we do in English. So, once the process of teaching basic verbs and their conjugated forms to students has begun, the idea of then introducing them to a form of a verb which is used as a noun becomes daunting.

I find that one of the most effective modes of teaching my ESL students is similar to the way that we teach youngsters to learn vocabulary and begin to construct simple sentences: visual clues. True, a certain amount of memorization is required just to learn verbs, and to recognize action verbs versus linking verbs, but even these words can be more easily learned with the help of flash cards and simple charts which are presented in a colorful and even amusing way.

So the first step would be present the students a number of simple, basic, frequently used action verbs:

GERUNDS INFINITIVES
Verb + ING      TO + Verb
Eating To eat
Reading To read
Playing To play
Sleeping To sleep
Going To go
Running To run
Writing To write
Dressing To dress
Drawing To draw
Crying To cry

These can all be illustrated with flashcards and/or charts.

The next step is to show which (main) verbs can be followed by gerunds, infinitives, and in some cases, both:

I ADMIT sleeping late. *** I ANTICIPATE going on vacation. *** I APPRECIATE having my own bedroom. *** I DELAY doing homework until the last minute, etc.

I AGREE to volunteer at the orphanage. *** She APPEARS to drive recklessly. *** I EXPECT to know the results of the test soon. *** I NEED to study for the test.

I ATTEMPT to challenge myself with difficult tasks. *** I ATTEMPT challenging myself with difficult tasks. *** I LOVE to sleep. I LOVE sleeping.

To summarize, the key to learning these seemingly contradictory verb forms is repetition and illustration.

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