Grammar – Gerunds and Infinitives for Purpose

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?

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

 


10 Comments on Grammar – Gerunds and Infinitives for Purpose

  1. xyzathi
    August 5, 2012 at 11:13 am (2 years ago)

    thank you very much.

  2. Chengnguon
    September 7, 2012 at 12:11 am (2 years ago)

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

  3. siyak
    January 12, 2013 at 9:40 am (2 years ago)

    thanks a lot

  4. Farhad From Afghanistan
    August 25, 2013 at 2:44 am (1 year ago)

    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.

    • Melanie
      Melanie
      August 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm (1 year ago)

      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.”

      = )

  5. Giorgi
    October 28, 2013 at 5:49 am (1 year ago)

    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 .

    • Melanie
      Melanie
      October 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm (1 year ago)

      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.”

      = )

  6. Maart
    November 4, 2013 at 6:23 am (1 year ago)

    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.

    • Melanie
      Melanie
      November 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm (1 year ago)

      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.”

      = )

  7. zahra
    March 2, 2014 at 11:18 am (10 months ago)

    thank u so much !