The word like has a lexical meaning. It means to find agreeable.
But, I like to write or I like writing both have different grammatical meanings.
When you think of the meaning, you usually rush off to a dictionary to look up a word. But do you think about grammatical meaning in your writing?
If so, or not, how do you look up a grammatical meaning?
Meaning in grammar
A dictionary won’t help you to find the definition of a complete sentence or clause.
The only way to discover meaning is to use a good English grammar reference book.
For English speakers, basic grammar rules of the English language are ingrained and are a reflex action.
But how often do you question your reflexes when you start writing?
A lot of people tend to write as they speak. But we don’t always speak in grammatically correct phrases.
We all make little, or big, habitual mistakes when we speak.
However, in writing, little things like splitting infinitives, ending a sentence with a preposition, or using subject-verb order in a question are grammatical errors that can stand out very badly.
We also tend to speak in short, incomplete sentences or clauses, unlike in writing, where we use long, complete sentences far more frequently.
Checking for meanings of parts of speech, which is in fact, what grammar is, takes time and patience.
Learn your grammar again for your writing
There are basic rules such as those that apply to singular and plural verb agreement, uncountable and countable nouns, use of object, possessive, or personal pronouns.
These rarely cause problems for writers in use or meaning.
However, back to the title of this article, and a few simple words that can cause confusion for new writers.
Correct use of the gerund and the infinitive with preference verbs is one of the grammatical forms that can cause real problems for inexperienced writers.
While you may think the meaning is clear and feels great in a sentence you write, this is not always true.
I see so many author bios with one of these two short phrases. So it makes for a perfect example. But what do they mean?
Let’s look at the possible meanings of these two sentence examples below.
I like to write.
I like writing.
Is there a difference in meaning between these two simple sentences? Most definitely, yes.
Use of the gerund
Almost all preference verbs or preference adjectives and clauses take the gerund.
This is because the gerund is a verbal noun, which can always replace a noun.
Therefore it expresses a preference for something. Think gerund, think chocolate, because they are interchangeable. I like chocolate, and I like writing have the same meaning.
Verbs such as adore, detest, dislike, enjoy, don’t mind and loathe, or words like keen on, can’t stand, crazy about or fond of, always use the gerund in a similar manner to a noun.
I enjoy writing.
I enjoy wine.
I adore reading.
I adore chocolate.
I can’t stand working on the weekend.
I can’t stand trains that are late.
I don’t mind waiting for you.
I don’t mind winter.
Using the gerund or a noun after a preference verb or clause will always have the grammatical meaning of something, or an activity, that you enjoy or love, or hate, or prefer not having or doing.
You also use the gerund in participial phrases.
Use of the infinitive changes the meaning subtly
Why do you write?
To sell books and make money.
When you use the infinitive after certain preference verbs, the meaning changes to the sense of the answer above. Instead of preference, we now have a reason.
For three preference verbs, like, love and hate, the infinitive can follow them to express a reason why we do something.
It cannot replace a noun, as is the case with the gerund.
Remember the word chocolate I mentioned earlier that can replace the gerund? Well, you can’t replace the infinitive and say, I like to chocolate.
Therefore, for the two sentences, I like writing, and I like to write, the meanings are quite different.
I like writing. Meaning: I do it with a passion. I love it. I can’t go a day without writing.
I like to write. Meaning: Because it relieves my tension. Because I can close the door and tell my kids to keep quiet.
Because it is the only way I can escape from reality. Because I sell books and make money.
With an extension to the phrases, the different meanings are even more evident.
I like writing early in the morning. Meaning: It’s quiet and peaceful, and I enjoy listening to the birds singing.
I like to write in the morning. Meaning: Because I have to start work at nine, so it’s my only chance to write.
With the two verbs love and hate, there is also a similar difference in meaning.
I hate ironing. Meaning: It would be your preference not to do it.
I hate to tell you this, but you have body odor. Meaning: I’m sorry I have to say this.
I love chocolate! Meaning: You want more and more of it.
I love to have choices in life. Meaning: Because it gives you more freedom.
What do you prefer?
Lastly, there is one preference verb that takes both the gerund or the infinitive, but without a change of meaning.
Because the verb to prefer has the distinct meaning of expressing a preference, its meaning never changes.
I prefer writing late at night.
I prefer to write late at night.
These two sentences have the exact same grammatical meaning of expressing a preference. The verb to prefer cannot express reason.
However, never confuse the preference verbs noted above when they are used with the addition of the modal verb, would.
The word would changes the grammatical meaning to express a wish, a hope, a fear, or a desire.
As soon as you add would, the infinitive is always used for all preference verbs.
I would love to write a book.
I would hate to get arrested.
I would like to get published.
How to make the correct grammatical decision
With all verbs of preference, it is almost always better to follow with the gerund.
This will mean that it is something that is a pleasure or enjoyable or not enjoyable. Think of chocolate if ever you are in doubt.
If you are writing articles, you will generally use the gerund form.
The only times when you should consider using the infinitive is when you want to expressly state a reason for your preference, and then only with like, love or hate.
Therefore the answer to the title of this article is definitely, I like writing!
Investigate, and be curious about grammar
In other parts of speech and grammatical forms, there are decisions to make regarding the precise meaning of a clause or sentence.
There is often some confusion as to when to use the simple past or present perfect. Or which future form to use.
As a little brainteaser, can you spot the grammar difference and subtle changes of meaning in these few sentences below?
What grammar structure is at work here?
I recommended that he take a grammar course.
I suggested that he takes a grammar course.
It is absolutely necessary that he take a grammar course.
I think he takes a grammar course.
I insisted he take a grammar course.
I don’t know if he takes a grammar course.
Three of the sentences above use the subjunctive mood.
It is often used to expresses a doubt, wish, regret, request, demand, or a proposal.
The only way you can understand how grammar works is to grab a good grammar reference book and start reading and learning.
One of my favorites is Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage because it is written in easy to read plain English, and the grammar topics are in alphabetical order.
Read it and then apply your new knowledge to your writing.
If you prefer to learn online, there are many very good grammar checkers that can also help you in correcting common grammar errors by giving an explanation for the errors it finds.
In conclusion, never trust that how you speak can be transferred totally into how you write.
Double-checking, or investigating your grammar use is never a waste of time.
You should also pay attention to weak words that you might use by habit.
If you think it is fun to write, then you should also make refreshing your grammar knowledge fun too. It will help you write better blog posts and books.
If you do, you will be on your way to becoming a much better writer.