I have an ESL student who is questioning these sentences. Which sentence is correct? or are they both correct?
Hugging is not acceptable in my culture.
To hug is not acceptable in my culture.
Hi, Janice—ESL students are standardly advised not to use infinive phrases as sentence subjects. In subject position, gerund phrases tend to sound much more natural.
As Ahmed has indicated, infinitives tend to have a much more formal sound in that position. An infinitive can be naturally and correctly used in a variation of your second sentence. This one uses expletive "it":
- It is not acceptable in my culture to hug.
In that sentence, "to hug" is an extraposed subject. "It" doesn't mean anything, but simply anticipates the semantic subject ("to hug"). The sentence is equivalent in meaning to "To hug is not acceptable in my culture."
I told him that to hug is a preposition phrase (this could be wrong but the only thing I could think of at the moment), and it was awkward to begin the sentence this way.
No. "To hug" is not a prepositional phrase in "To hug is not acceptable in my culture." In fact, infinitival "to" is never a preposition. When "to" is followed by the base form of a verb, or bare infinitive, "to" is simply the stem of an infinitive.
There are cases where it is perfectly natural to use an infinitive as the subject of a clause. They are just not cases that we want to tell beginning or intermediate ESL learners about, for it would be so easy for them to go astray.
- To drive buzzed is to drive drunk.
- To care for people is to love them.