‘Hear doing’ vs. ‘hear do’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

Verbs of perception (such as “hear”, “see”, “feel”, and others) can be used both with the -ing form (e.g. “hear doing”) and with the infinitive without “to” (e.g. “hear do”). The meaning is different in each case, however.

The “hear do” form describes a completed one-time action, whereas the “hear doing” form implies a continuous or repetitive action. For example:

I heard the book hit(ting) the floor.

If you heard the book “hitting the floor”, then the book either hit the floor several times, or it was a longer continuous process making a noise. If you heard the book “hit the floor”, it was a one-time short thud. Another example: Imagine you saw a group of children who were jumping repeatedly into a swimming pool. Then you would likely say:

I saw the children jumping into the swimming pool.

There’s nothing wrong with using “saw the children jump”, but that would imply that the children did it only once (or that you saw them do it only once).

A repetitive action can often be thought of as a longer one-time action, which gives us a certain freedom of expression. For example, both

I heard her play the piano.
I heard her playing the piano.

make sense and can be used completely interchangeably.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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