Grammar – Gerunds and Infinitives for Purpose

by Melanie on February 25, 2010

Gerunds and infinitives are a part of English grammar that many English learners find challenging. In this post, I will help you understand when to use a gerund or infinitive to describe the purpose of someone or something.

In English, both gerunds and infinitives can be used to talk about the reason why we use or do something.

Let’s begin with an example. This is a hair dryer:

There are two ways you can talk about the purpose of the hair dryer. Compare these two sentences …

A hair dryer is for drying hair.

I use a hair dryer to dry my hair.

Can you see the difference between the two sentences above?

~

Gerunds

A gerund is a verb that acts like a noun. To form a gerund, add –ing to the end of the verb.

To describe the purpose of something, use for + gerund:

What is a hair dryer for?
A hair dryer is for drying hair.

What is this program for?
This computer program is for editing videos.

*Notice that in the above sentences, the thing being described is the subject of the sentence.

More example sentences:

My lips are for kissing!

Be quiet! A library is for studying, not for socializing!

~

Infinitives

An infinitive is the to + verb form. To describe the purpose of someone, use an infinitive.

What do you use a hair dryer for?
I use a hair dryer to dry my hair.

Why did you go to the store?
I went to the store to buy some milk.

Why are you going to Toronto?
I‘m going to Toronto to learn English

More example sentences:

I use my lips to kiss!

Be quiet! I come to the library to study, not to socialize!

~

Here’s where it gets confusing:
You can still use for + noun to talk about the purpose of someone, but the noun CANNOT be a gerund:

Why did you buy a box of chocolates?
I bought a box of chocolates for my husband.
I bought a box of chocolates to give my husband.
NOT: I bought a box of chocolates for give my husband.
NOT: I bought a box of chocolates for giving my husband.

~

I hope this helped you to better understand when to use a gerund or infinitive to talk about purpose!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 xyzathi August 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

thank you very much.

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2 Chengnguon September 7, 2012 at 12:11 am

Thank very much for teaching me…. But I hope u can make some practice to make sure that it is easy for us…. thank!

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3 Luana November 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Thank you so much!

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4 siyak January 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

thanks a lot

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5 Bernadett February 1, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Dear Melanie, thank you for this helpful explanation, but I’d like to ask you to give me more details about the complicated part… The problem is that I am a university student and I have to know the linguistical reason behind these structures… Could you help me? It would be life saving! :)

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6 Bernadett February 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm

For example here are these sentences: I use my lips to kiss or I use my lips for kissing. I assume both are correct and have the same meaning. Then what’s the point? :/
B.

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Melanie 7 Melanie February 2, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Hi, Bernadett!

Unfortunately I can’t help you with the ‘linguistic reason’ behind these structures. I have not studied linguistics, so I can’t answer ‘why?’ I can only tell you ‘what.’

All the best to you with your studies,
Melanie

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8 Bernadett February 2, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Never mind! Thank you! :))

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9 Rafael July 6, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Hi Melanie!
It’s a pleasure to post.

I would like to know if you have a list of transitive and intransitive verbs. I know you can’t tell me “the why” but I have a special grammar addition. What I mean is that you will not tell me why some verb are transitive or intransitive but I want to have a list to know which kind of verb is each one.

Thanks, and lots of success for you and your site!

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Melanie 10 Melanie July 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Hi, Rafael!

I don’t recommend using lists of transitive & intransitive verbs. Lists of random verbs isn’t going to help, because you still need to learn to use the verbs in context.

However, since you asked, here’s what I was able to find:

A list of common transitive verbs:
http://web2.uvcs.uvic.ca/elc/sample/beginner/gs/gs_10.htm

I also found this list on wikipedia, but most of the verbs on this list are obscure words that aren’t used by most native speakers. I have never heard of half the verbs on this list:
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_transitive_verbs

Good luck!
= )

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11 Rafael July 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Thank you Melanie!

I’m going to follow your suggest and practice to use the verbs in a contextualized way.

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12 Ashish August 12, 2013 at 6:18 pm

hello Ma’am,
Thanx for posting all these usefully grammar tips. I have downloaded all your podcasts and listen to them. Could you plz post lists of phrases which are most often used while speaking and in conversations.. And of course with their use in sentences.
and thanx again. :)

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13 Farhad From Afghanistan August 25, 2013 at 2:44 am

Thank you so much for nice explanation but it confused me when i see these sentences. please try to solve and say the main difference of these gerund and infinitive sentences for me

infinitive: I use my computer to send e-mails
gerund: I use my computer for sending e-mails

infinitive: Computers are often used to pay bills.
gerund: Computers are often used for paying bills.

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Melanie 14 Melanie August 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Hi, Farhad!

Where did you see these sentences? Were these sentences in a textbook or on a test?

infinitive: I use my computer to send e-mails CORRECT
gerund: I use my computer for sending e-mails INCORRECT

infinitive: Computers are often used to pay bills. CORRECT*
gerund: Computers are often used for paying bills. INCORRECT
*Actually a better sentences is, “People often use computers to pay bills.”

Notice that in the articles, the sentences where ‘for’ is used, the verb ‘use’ is NOT used. For example,
“A hair dryer is FOR drying hair.”
“I USE a hair dryer TO dry my hair.”

I didn’t say “A hair dryer is used for drying hair.”

= )

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15 Giorgi October 28, 2013 at 5:49 am

Hello Teacher. Thanks for this helpful explanation . that was so stunning.
I am interested in some confusing situations . here is it
This video has been created to help people learn english
This video has been created for helping people learn english
I think the first sentence is much clear

This video is for telling you a story about me
this video is to tell you a story about me .

I want to thank you in advance .

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Melanie 16 Melanie October 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Hi, Giorgi!

1. CREATE
I think in this case, the correct preposition has more to do with the verb with ‘create’ than with the gerund.

Usually, ‘create’ is used like this:
create something for SOMEONE
create something to DO SOMETHING

I can’t think of a sentence where I would say, ‘create something for doing something.’ That doesn’t sound right.

So, your first sentence is correct:
“This video has been created to help people learn English.”

2. This video is for telling you a story about me.
This video is to tell you a story about me.

Both of the sentence constructions are unnatural. The sentence sounds better like this,
“I made this video to tell you a story about me.”

= )

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17 Giorgi October 31, 2013 at 7:01 am

Thank you so much . I’ve got two questions . It bothers me
He may have lost his way
He might have lost his way .
what is the difference between these two sentences? :)

He can’t have done it
He couldn’t have done it .
the difference

thanks

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18 Maart November 4, 2013 at 6:23 am

Hi.
I have a question on the use of purpose of something (singular and plural).
Which is the correct use of the verb TO BE in the below sentence:
The purpose of Known Errors IS/ARE to minimize the amount of Incidents assigned to departments ??
From my reasoning, I would say IS, because ‘the purpose’ is the subject of the sentence, so it cannot be used in a plural form?
Or am I wrong?
Thanks.

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Melanie 19 Melanie November 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Hi, Maart!

You are correct! When you use the phrase ‘the purpose of,’ use IS.

“The purpose of these articles is to help students learn English.”

= )

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20 zahra March 2, 2014 at 11:18 am

thank u so much !

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21 Adib March 27, 2014 at 9:51 pm

While studying for GMAT, I faced this question:

Question) “A driver’s license in one country is not always enough to enable a person to drive in another country legally.”

Select the Correct Grammatical Phrase:

A) “A driver’s license in one country is not always enough to enable a person to drive in another country legally.”
B) “It is not always enough to have a driver’s license in one country in order to drive in another country legally”
C) “It is not always enough to have a driver’s license in one country for driving in another country legally”
D) “Having a driver’s license in one country, it is not always enough in order to drive in another country legally”
E) “A driver’s license in one country is not always enough for driving in another country legally”

Based on your description, I thought that E would be ideal (given that E uses ‘for driving’ to describe the purpose of a license). However, it stated that choice A is correct.

When defining or expressing a purpose, is it strictly limited to “to + verb”?

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Melanie 22 Melanie March 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Hi, Adib,

Your question on the GRE was not about the purpose of something. A statement of purpose is, “A driver’s license is for driving a car.” That’s not the same as the question on the GRE. The question on the GRE is saying, “If you want to legally drive in another country, you may need another document in addition to your driver’s license.

In your comment, sentence A is exactly the same as the question. B would be the correct answer based on what you typed.

= )

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23 Leslie March 28, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Please share your problem with me to solve together.

Is the above sentence correct? If not, why not?

Thank you in advance for your comments.

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Melanie 24 Melanie March 29, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Hi, Leslie!

“Please share your problem with me to solve together.”

Your sentence is unnatural & incorrect. It sounds like it was just translated from another language into English. I think you wanted to say,
“I can help you with your problem.”

Or, you can say, “If you tell me your problem, we can solve it together.”

= )

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