Why Do We Use “Looking Forward To” with a Second –ING Verb?

TWO –ING VERBS IN THE SAME CLAUSE, GERUNDS VS. INFINITIVES…THERE’S A LOT GOING ON WITH THE COMMON EXPRESSION “LOOKING FORWARD TO”!

Many, many times I’ve heard my students say things like “I’m look forward to sleeping in” or “I’m looking forward to sleep in” instead of the correct “I’m looking forward to sleeping in.” Their confusion is understandable when you look at all of the usual grammar rules that they’re trying to apply, albeit incorrectly, to the expression “looking forward to.”

CAN WE USE TWO – ING VERBS IN THE SAME SENTENCE?

Yes, we can! In fact, the expression “looking forward to” is most often used with the present progressive (aka present continuous) verb tense to express a future meaning.

  • I’m looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday.

Note that this expression can be used with other tenses, but still mainly with those that use –ING verbs.

  • She has been looking forward to going on vacation for months. (Present Perfect Progressive)
  • He was looking forward to/had been looking forward to going on vacation before he found out that he couldn’t get the time off. (Past Progressive or Past Perfect Progressive)
  • look forward to seeing you every day. (Simple Present)

DOESN’T THE BASE FORM OF THE VERB FOLLOW “TO”?

Usually, yes. The construction to + base verb forms the infinitive verb. Infinitive verbs have many uses in English; for example, they are used after certain main verbs (I want to buy a new shirt), after nouns (I asked my friend to help me), etc.

However, don’t forget that “to” is also a preposition (I went to the store) and that prepositions are almost always followed by a gerund (-ING verb form).

  • This tool is used for cutting.
  • We got here by taking the bus.
  • They are looking forward to doing their presentations.

So the “to” in “looking forward to” is a preposition that is part of an expression. Remember the rule preposition + gerund…it is usually applicable, even if the preposition is “to.” Try to determine, in each case, whether “to” is a preposition that is part of an expression, or if “to” is part of an infinitive verb. (Look for my blog post on Gerunds and Infinitives, coming next month, for more help!)

CAN WE USE THREE –ING VERBS IN THE SAME SENTENCE?

Yes, and we commonly do so with the expression “looking forward to” because of the go + gerund construction.

  • I’m looking forward to going skiing next weekend.

Explain to your students that there are three separate things happening here. First, “am looking” uses –ING because of the present progressive (with a future meaning) verb tense. Second, we use “going” because of the preposition + gerund rule (see the second Q&A). And third, we use “skiing” because of the go + gerund construction (used for many activities, such as go shopping, go dancing, go surfing, go hiking, etc.).

CAN WE USE “LOOKING FORWARD TO” WITH JUST A NOUN?

Yes. Because prepositions are also commonly followed by nouns, the “to” in this expression can be followed by a noun.

  • I’m looking forward to dinner.
  • She’s looking forward to the class.
  • He’s looking forward to Friday.

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