4

Example:

Three months had passed since she started to avoid me.

Three months had passed since she started avoiding me.

Right now, what I do is to search for the phrase with the most results in Google Books (e.g. she started to avoid me vs she started avoiding me).

Still, I wonder: is there any way to decide whether to use the former or the latter?

  • @what Yes, that's what I wrote: results in Google Books. The catalog looks interesting. I'll check it out. – Alexandro Chen May 10 '15 at 2:47
  • Sorry, @AlexandroChen, I misread that. And the book I wanted to recommend is actually this one: elt.oup.com/catalogue/items/global/grammar_vocabulary/… It is one of the most recommended Grammar books and a favourite among university English teachers. I just found it in my shelf when I came home, I don't know the other one and have deleted that comment. – user5645 May 10 '15 at 5:30
  • 1
    @what Thanks! I'll see if I can get it. – Alexandro Chen May 10 '15 at 6:22
  • Saying someone started to avoid, feels somewhat analytical to me, a bit distanced from the actual activity. Started avoiding describes an action the person is taking. While they both say the same thing, they convey a very different feeling and perspective - at least to me. – Joe May 13 '15 at 10:25
4

I think it's subjective. To my ear, to avoid is a series of individual events, while avoiding implies something continuous and ongoing.

"She started to avoid me" sounds like "I called her and she didn't return my call. The next day I texted her but she didn't text back. Two days later I sent her an email which she never opened."

"She started avoiding me" sounds like "I walked in the room and she immediately left, and when I followed her she left the building."

That's just my opinion; others may hear them as interchangeable. They're both right, and I think the nuance of difference is so subtle that you could use either purely depending on which one you liked the sound of.

  • 1
    "started to avoid" seems to imply more an abruptness of the start (e.g., a reaction to a fatal faux pas) where "started avoiding" seems to imply a more gradual increase of avoidance (e.g., growing tired of a topic of conversation). There may also be some hint of greater intensity or at least decisiveness with "to avoid", where "avoiding" might imply less intentionality but perhaps more persistence. Cf. "Striving, seeking, finding, and not yielding" and "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield", the latter fits Tennyson's emphasis on will (intention) versus strength (action/persistence). – Paul A. Clayton May 9 '15 at 16:27
3

I would agree with Lauren that both constructs are equally valid from a grammatical point of view, but there are a number of other factors to bias the decision.

Character voice. People who studied latin prefer infinitives, people who work with their hands prefer gerunds.

Tense. infinitives work very well with future tense, gerunds work well with present tense.

Secondary connotations. Some words or phrases may acquire additional meaning. you may want to avoid or exploit that.

Poetry. Match or break rhythm.

Puns and forced puns.

3

Michael Swan's Practical English Usage (2nd ed., p. 285):

296 -ing forms used like nouns (5):

       -ing form or infinitive?

...

10 begin and start

Begin and start can be followed by infinitives or -ing forms. Usually there is no important difference.
     She began playing / to play the guitar when she was six. ...
After progressive forms of begin and start, infinitives are preferred.
     I'm beginning to learn karate. (NOT I'm beginning learning karate.)
Infinitives are also preferred with stative verbs like understand, realise and know.
     I slowly began to understand how she felt. (NOT ...began understanding...)

There's about 50 or so pages on first infinitives and then -ing forms in that book, and I would think that other uses of those forms influence how we perceive both options even in cases where both are grammatically equivalent. I have described my feel for semantics in my other answer.

1

Adding to Lauren's excellent clarification, you could look at it from another perspective by referring to, let's say, money... and seeing where the latter could beg the question "why?" or "how?"

Three months had passed since she started to save money.

That sounds like a statement. OK, so she saved money.

Three months had passed since she started saving money.

In a very subtle way, depending on the person, the latter may seem fuzzy -- saving money how? Less shopping, more investments, less expenses, how?

Just an alternative way of looking at it, although this can be quite subjective.

  • Interesting examples. The first strikes me as more passive, e,g, she might have been given a permanent discount by her wireless provider. The second carries more intentionality, e.g., she started shopping for less expensive items when she shopped. It's very subtle, though. More often than not, I'd make the decision based on how it played in context. – Nicole May 14 '15 at 8:56
1

Note: I am not a native speaker and know English mainly through reading the language. My feel for language is therefore more influenced by written than by spoken English, a confoundation that might confuse some of the native speakers here, or a lack which might lead to Germanisms influencing me. You be the judge :-)

To me the proper use is reflected in the following example:

Three months have passed since she has started to avoid me, and she has been avoiding me ever since.

I would say that you use the past or present continuous for events that are ongoing in the present or had been ongoing until a specified end point or for a specified duration, and the infinitive for activities that you plan, think, want, start to do, that is that lie in the future of the thinking, starting and so on, but have not yet begun.

Viz.:

Three months have passed since she had started to avoid me -- and given up and returned into my arms after that first attempt.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.