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Begin To Do and Begin Doing

We received an interesting question from Maggie and Savor in Beijing:

We have a question from Cafe 150: What is the difference between “begin doing” and “begin to do”?  In Cafe 150, it says “Josephine began to act in movies” and then says “She began singing jazz music.”  Why is there a difference?

You can say either “begin to act” or “begin acting.”  They would both be correct in this circumstance.  You can put an infinitive verb (such as “to act” or “to do”) after the verb begin, or a gerund (a verb that ends in -ing, such as “acting” or “doing”).  However, this only works when the verb begin is in the simple present or simple past (begin, began).  If it is in the present or past progressive, such as, “He is beginning” or “He was doing,” then you can only use an infinitive after the verb: “He is beginning to act on the stage” or “She was beginning to annoy (bother) me!”

~Jeff

9 Responses to “Begin To Do and Begin Doing”

  1. Delphy Says:

    That’s interesting. The good news for me is the question was raised by Chinese because I’m Chinese too. When I was in my junior or high school, even in my university, I’d never heard about the different use between “begin to do” and “begin doing”. The more I learn from ESL the more I feel the only thing I got from my over 10 years’ English learning is just the words, no verbal, no phrases, no sentances. Faint~~~~

  2. Shin Says:

    Hi I’ve just got a question from your reply.
    You told that sentence is not able to use in the present or past progressive. Here is a question, can I use in the future?
    ex)”I’ll be begining to act” and “I’ll be begining acting”
    What’s correct?

  3. ESL Podcast Google Group Says:

    Thanks jeff

  4. malika Says:

    Well, thank you Dr. Jeff for this clarification. It really helps.

    By the way, I frequently face a difficulty of using some words that have almost the same meaning, right now I can’t remember any of them to give you an example, and I think it arises in the english language more than in french or spanish languages, that’s what I think. If you can tell me if it’s right or not, that would help me to overcome something that I thought it was a difficulty !

    Thank you both Dr. Jeff and Dr. Lucy and all team members. I think, no I’m sure you’ll never be short on new and good ideas to help us improve learning this beautiful language !

  5. Dmitry Says:

    On a related note, is there any difference between ‘Where do you plan to go?’ and ‘Where do you plan on going?’ ?

  6. elcomandant Says:

    Thank you Jeff, I have reflected about this for use correctly. I think that in Spanish language is the same, so for us, the natives Spanish speakers is easy to understand. in this case we have avantage.
    Greetings.

  7. fivestar Says:

    I would appreciate much more if someone explained to me the difference between “all the smth” and “all of the smth”. Jeff always says “all of the definitions” and so forth and, for example, the description of the last episode says “by learning the English words for all the things”.

    best regards

  8. emiliano Says:

    More or less the same as Spnanish lenguage, so for us is easy to understand and to use.
    “Ella comenzó actuando de Cenicienta el año pasado” “Ella comenzó a actuar de Cenicienta el año pasado”
    “Ella comienza hoy actuando de Blancanieves” “Ella comienza hoy a actuar de Blancanieves”
    But:
    “Ella esta comenzando a actuar de Blancanieves hoy”
    Sorry about the spanish, but it should be useful for some of our friends? I hope so.
    Thank you Jeff, I have never thought about these similitudes between English and Spanish.

  9. sadiya Says:

    hi: it s intersting to make the difference about two sentence its will tell u the two word that u confuse realy and its nice thank u