Hello,

What rule is applied to choosing between "to" and "of-ing" in the pairs?
What is the difference between each sentence in the following pairs?

(1)That is the way to understand it.
(2)That is the way of understanding it.

(3)I have the responsibility to do the job.
(4)I have the responsibility of doing the job.

(5)He has the ability to finish the work in time.
(6)He has the ability of finishing the work in time.

apple

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Sentence (1), with the infinitive complement, is the usual form. The pattern in Sentence (2) is used, but rarely. Doing a Google search, I found 240 instances of "the way TO UNDERSTAND it" versus 90 instances of "the way OF UNDERSTANDING it." The same imbalance obtains when we add an adjective. There were 976 instances of "the BEST way TO UNDERSTAND it" and only 32 of "the BEST way OF UNDERSTANDING it." Both patterns, however, have the same meaning.

(3)I have the responsibility to do the job.
(4)I have the responsibility of doing the job.

Pattern (3) occurs less frequently than does Pattern (4). "The responsibility TO DO the job" occurs 50 times, while Pattern (4), "the responsibility OF DOING the job" occurs 108 times. "A responsibility TO DO the job" also occurs--26 times, with no instances of "A responsibility OF DOING the job."

Quirk et al.* state that the noun "responsibility," along with "aim, necessity, impossibility, possibility, and intention" tend to to take an of- plus -ing complement more often than a to- plus infinitive complement (Section 17.36, p. 1273).

Again, the meaning of both patterns is the same.

(5)He has the ability to finish the work in time.
(6)He has the ability of finishing the work in time.

Quirk et al. give both forms as occurring in English after the noun "ability." They offer the pair

He lost the ability to use his hands

He lost the ability of using his hands (Section 17.36, p. 1272)

This is a surprise to me. I don't feel that the of- plus -ing form is idiomatic. This reaction is borne out by a Google search: "His ability to use his hands" occurs 59 times versus 0 times for "his ability of using his hands." Similarly, "his ability to do the job" occurs 796 times versus 0 instances of "his ability of doing the job."

Marilyn Martin

*A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longman, 1985)
So, it's the collocation that does the trick. We just have to know what pattern or words collocate with "way", "responsibility", "ability", etc.

I have done some search on a different corpus and found 157 instances of "way to do" and 83 of "way of doing". Would it be safe to say that "way of doing" is rarely used?

apple
According to Quirk et al.*, some nouns accept only the infinitive complement:

agreement/decision/proposal/refusal/readiness

The noun risk accepts only the of + -ing complement

He runs the risk of offending his future in-laws (not *to offend)

Other nouns accept either kind of complement, but favor one or the other. Those that favor the infinitive include

chance/freedom/opportunity/need

Others favor the of + -ing complement:

aim/necessity/possibility/intention (Section 17.36, pp. 1272-73)

You are right that these must be learned as collocations.

"Way of doing" is used much less often than "way to do," but it is by no means rare. Do a Google search and you will find a much larger proportion of entries for "way to do" than for "way of doing."

With the phrase "one way to do it" I found 46,000 entries while "one way of doing it" had 8,580.

Looking for "several ways to do it" I found 3,070 instances, while for "several ways of doing it" I found 625.

Both constructions are perfectly grammatical, but the infinitive complement with way is far more common.

Marilyn Martin

*A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longman, 1985)

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