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English as a Second Language/Sentence strcuture (meaning)


Dear Brian,

What is the difference in meaning between this pair of sentences:

1. Your actions cause the team to be killed. ('to be killed' is the passive infinitive)

2. Your actions cause the killing of the team. ('killing' is a gerund).

Thanks and best regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

Hi Antoine!

Sorry to get back to you so late!  I actually had a lot of difficulty with this question, but after looking into it and getting some feedback from colleagues, I think I can give you an adequate answer.

There are many complex grammatical differences between the infinitive form and gerunds, but many people do not realize that there are also some subtle differences in meaning as well!  This is a great example of the difference.

The usage of gerunds tends to make the content feel more real, more concrete, more direct.  The use of infinitives, on the other hand, often makes the content feel more imagined, more abstract or more indirect.

As an example:

1. Playing tennis is fun. (We can assume the speaker actually plays tennis, so he or she is speaking from real experience.)
2. To play tennis would be fun. (The choice to use the infinitive here probably means the speaker is simply imagining what it would be like to play tennis; he or she has probably never actually played.)

Remember, this is a general rule, and only applies when either one could be correctly used, and does not apply strictly in all cases.

Back to your sentences:

1. Your actions caused the team to be killed.
2. Your actions caused the killing of the team.

The first sentence uses the infinitive form, which suggests that the listener's actions probably INDIRECTLY caused the team to be killed.

The second sentence uses the gerund form, which suggests that the listener's actions probably DIRECTLY caused the killing of the team.

Of course, based on those sentences alone, we can't know for sure, but without any more information, that is what a native speaker would assume.

I hope that helped!  If you need any further assistance, please feel free to send me a follow up!

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Brian Connelly


I can answer pretty much any question a student might have about English; about grammar, vocabulary, meanings of words, phrases, expressions or idioms, pronunciation, etc. I can answer questions about how to learn or study English better, how to improve certain aspects of communication (listening, writing, speaking, etc), about why we have certain rules.


I've been teaching English in Japan, mainly as a private (one-to-one) teacher, but also at companies such as Universal Studios or international airports. I have taught professional interpreters and translators and I have also taught students who dropped out of high school and never learned any English. Several years ago I acquired the CELTA and I have been running my own classroom for the past year.

None in particular, but I work with a number of companies who regularly introduce me to new students and occasionally to other companies that are looking for English teachers.


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I currently have approximately 40 individual students with whom I work one on one. I have also worked with local manufacturing companies, colleges, local retailers, as well as Sharp, Universal Studios, Itami International Airport, Kobe International Airport

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