Should you ‘stop listening’, or ‘stop to listen’? Is grammar important at all? Well, sometimes, yes.

Infinitive or gerund?
Some verbs in English are followed by the infinitive (‘to’ form), others by the gerund (‘ing’ form):

I decided to eat. (decide + infinitive)
(Not: I decided eating.)
I finished eating. (finish + gerund)
(Not: I finished to eat.)

But if someone says “I decided eating” or “I finished to eat”, wouldn’t that also be understood? Sure, people would generally understand what you want to say, but both of these sentences are incorrect.

If you’d like to improve your English, it’s a good idea to learn which verbs are followed by which forms, but there are some verbs that you should be very careful with.

Confusing verbs
Verbs like stop, remember and try can be used with both the infinitive or gerund, but the meaning changes completely in each case.

Here are some examples to help you see the differences:


English German
I was reading the report, but I stopped to write an email.

(This is the reason why I stopped the previous action.)

Ich war dabei, den Bericht zu lesen, aber ich habe damit aufgehört, um eine E-Mail zu schreiben.
I stopped writing the email when the telephone rang.

(This is the action that I stopped.)

Ich habe aufgehört, die E-Mail zu schreiben, als das Telefon geklingelt hat.

You can even use both of these ideas together:

  • I stopped reading the report to write an email. (Ich habe aufgehört, den Bericht zu lesen, um eine E-Mail zu schreiben.)
  • I stopped writing the email to answer the phone. (Ich habe aufgehört, die E-Mail zu schreiben, um ans Telefon zu gehen.)


English German
I remembered to speak to him at the conference.

(I didn’t forget to do something.)

Ich habe mich daran erinnert, mit ihm auf der Konferenz zu sprechen.
I remembered speaking to him at the conference.

(I remember what I did in the past.)

Ich habe mich daran erinnert, dass ich mit ihm auf der Konferenz gesprochen habe.

As a guide: If you have to remember something before you actually do it, use the infinitive. If you remember something after you’ve done it, use the gerund.


English German
I tried to speak to my boss about the problem, but I couldn’t find her.

(My goal was to speak to my boss, but this wasn’t possible.)
Ich habe versucht, mit meiner Chefin das Problem zu besprechen, aber ich habe sie nicht gefunden.
I tried speaking to my boss about the problem, but she couldn’t help me.

(My goal was to solve the problem, but the method – speaking to my boss – didn’t work.)
Ich habe versucht, das Problem zu lösen, indem ich es mit meiner Chefin besprochen habe, aber sie konnte mir nicht helfen.

My tip: Think about what your main goal is. Are you speaking about what you actually want to do (infinitive) or the way you want to reach your goal (gerund).

And now?

Don’t worry if things are not 100% clear; the most important thing is that you know that this aspect of English grammar can cause big misunderstandings.

Look for examples when you read or listen and note those that you’ll use in your everyday life. If you work on an IT helpdesk, for example, learn the sentence: “Have you tried restarting your PC?” (i.e. restart your PC and see if that has solved the problem.)

And, as always, if you’re not sure, look for another way to make your message clear.

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