Learn English – “I like watching” vs “I like to watch” What’s the difference


Which of the two possibilities would native speakers more likely say when they watch a football (soccer or American) match from the comfort of their home?

What sport do you watch most on television?

  1. I like watching football
  2. I like to watch football

And if the speaker went to a stadium to watch football matches, which sentence would they be more likely to say? Do native speakers (especially British and American) say they watch football in a stadium?

Is there a difference in meaning or usage if the speaker is thinking of their physical presence at the sporting event?

What sport do you watch most?

  1. I like watching football [in a stadium]
  2. I like to watch football [in a stadium]
  • If someone enjoyed all the rituals leading to the match; the travelling to the stadium, the football chants, the fast food, the camaraderie with fellow supporters, everything that is part of a live sporting event, which sentence might they say: 3 or 4?

  • Without prompting, would “like (to) + watch(ing)” be a common response or would a different verb be used with “like” for instance “go”?

  • Would it be in the gerund or the infinitive form? Is there a syntactic or semantic explanation for this preference?


This question is not a duplicate of When should a verb be followed by a gerund instead of an infinitive? which simply asks

“Which particular verbs are followed by ing and to? Can you please provide a list for that?”

This post is not asking for any list, it is not asking which verbs take the infinitive or the gerund. The answers on the older question handle that matter well enough. Instead, my question is one that frequently comes up among learners and ESOL teachers, it is specific and necessitates a deeper analysis and more thoughtful approach than saying there is no difference in meaning between the two forms. Native speakers are aware of this difference but find it difficult to verbalise, and ESOL and EFL teachers often struggle to explain why the verb “like“ can be followed by the infinitive or the gerund.

Not all verbs are this problematic, the verb remember can also be followed by either the infinitive or the gerund, e.g. “to remember to do something” and “remember doing something” But the two constructions have two distinct meanings, and they are not interchangeable.

The following expresses the memory of performing that activity e.g.

He remembers swimming in the lake as a child

The speaker recalls the experience, and the process it entailed: getting undressed, getting into a pair of swimming trunks, running to the shore, the initial impact of the cold water on his warm body, and so on. However, in

We must remember to swim where there is a lifeguard

The speaker is not thinking of the past, there is no fond recollection of that experience, the person is not concerned with the actual process of walking along the beach, spotting whether there is a blue or red flag flying, and seeing if a lifeguard is present etc. Instead, the speaker is thinking of the event itself, and reminding the listener not to ignore this important piece of information. The same cannot be said for

I like to watch football on television
I like watching football on television

What is the difference in meaning (and usage) between the two forms? I feel there must be, but I am having difficulty in pinpointing it. When would someone instinctively say one form over the other?

To sum up, I am specifically asking about the difference in meaning and usage between “I like to watch” and “I like watching”, the older question simply does not address this issue.

Best Answer

Which form would native speakers most likely say when they watch football (soccer or American) matches from the comfort of their home?

In AmE, IMHO, your samples 1 and 2 are appropriate.

Is there a difference in meaning or usage if the speaker is thinking of their physical presence at the sporting event?

In lieu of your samples, I suggest:

I like going to football games.

I am not sure of semantic reasonings. In summary, "I like going to a football game" or "I like to go to a football game" (or match)? are one in the same. I wouldn't normally say "watch football in a stadium."

Hey, are you watching Monday-nite football tonight? I sure am! I am actually going to the game.