Verb Combinations in English

Verbs can be combined in English in a number of ways. Here is a look at the most important verb combinations in English with links to resources for further practice and study for each type of verb combination. There are two main patterns for verb combinations.

1. Verb + Verb

One verb can immediately follow another verb. In this case, the second verb is known as the object of the verb. This second verb, or object of the verb, can either be the gerund (doing, playing, singing, etc.) form, or the infinitive (to eat, to swim, to think, etc.). Here are a few examples of each type:

Verb + Gerund

Alice enjoys playing the piano in her free time.
My teacher recommended signing up for the free lecture at the university.
They dislike taking tests.

Verb + Infinitive

I hope to visit my friends in Italy soon.
She decided to close up the shop and take the day off.
Tom asked to join the soccer team at school.

Rules?

You might ask yourself. Are there any rules to learn? Unfortunately, each verb needs to be learned just like irregular verb forms. You can use resources that list learn some of the most important verb + gerund and verb + infinitive, as well as take quizzes to test your knowledge on these combinations.

Phrasal Verb Combinations

However, there is one rule that can help with phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs end with a preposition. For example, look into, go through, put off, look forward to, etc. Prepositions are always followed by gerunds (doing, playing, talking, etc.) Therefore, verbs that follow phrasal verbs always take the gerund. For example:

They put off meeting until next week.
We look forward to seeing you at our next meeting.
Jennifer looked into buying a new car last weekend.

Verbs + Gerund / Infinitive: No Change in Meaning

Some verbs can take both the gerund and infinitive with little or no change in meaning. For example,

She likes to wake up early to get things done. / She likes waking up early to get things done.
We started to discuss the situation. / We started discussing the situation.

Verbs + Gerund / Infinitive: Change in Meaning

Some verbs can take both the gerund and infinitive, but change in meaning. For example,

Tom forgot to say hello to Peter when he was in town. = Tom didn’t say hello to to Peter.
Tom forgot saying hello to Peter when he was in town. = Tom said hello, but can’t remember doing it.

There are only a few of these verbs which you can learn with this verb + gerund change in meaning resource with explanations and multiple examples.

Tip

Trust your ear. If you’ve studied English for a long time, you’ll instinctively know if a combination is correct or not. If your “ear” tells you it doesn’t sound right. It probably isn’t. This is especially true if you live in an English speaking country.

2. Verb + Object + Verb

The other category of common verb combinations are verbs that are followed by an object and then another verb. For example:

She advised the students to clean up their desks.
We requested he come to the meeting next week. 
Peter asked her to stay for a few hours.

In this case, the second verb always comes in the infinitive form. In other words, always use the infinitive.

Let / Make / Help

However, there are three exceptions to this rule: let, help, make. With these verbs the object is followed by the base form of the verb (take, have, play, etc.). Here are some examples:

His parents let him stay out until midnight on Saturday.
Can you help me make a decision on the project?
The teacher made the students stay after class to complete their homework.

Verb Combinations in English.

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