Stop smoking vs. Stop to smoke

Which is correct: ‘I want to stop smoking’ or ‘I want to stop to smoke’? Grammatically, both sentences are correct. However, they have different meanings. The verb stop can be followed by a verb in the infinitive (to …) or an –ing form (also known as gerunds).

‘I want to stop smoking’ = quit

So you’ve finally decided to quit. It’s too expensive, you struggle to breathe after a short jog, it’s too damn cold to go out for a quick drag in winter – whatever the reason, you want to stop. Congrats – and good luck.

In this case, we use the –ing form after stop to show the activity/action has ended or will no longer continue. Have a look at these examples:

I stopped running.  I got tired.
I stopped studying.  I got bored/tired.
Stop talking!  You’re giving me a headache.
Could you please stop talking with your mouth full?  It’s disgusting.
Stop picking your nose!  It’s really disgusting.

‘I want to stop to smoke’ = stop doing something in order to smoke

This means something rather different. In this case, the infinitive (e.g. to smoke) is used to show purpose: why do you want to stop (whatever you’re doing)? To smoke. This form is used to indicate that one activity or action has ended or is paused in order to start another action. Let’s have a look at some other examples:

I stopped to rest.  I got tired so I stopped running in order to catch my breath – purpose: to rest.
He stopped to have a coffee.  He stopped walking and got a cup of coffee – purpose: to drink coffee.
We stopped to take in the view.  We stopped our journey and enjoyed the scenery – purpose: to take in the view.

Exceptions and common mistakes

As usual, there are some exceptions. We can’t always use the infinitive of purpose (to …) after stop:

I stopped running. (not I stopped to run)
He stopped working at 7 pm. (not He stopped to work at 7 pm)
Stop doing that! (not Stop to do that)

Can you think of any other examples? Leave a comment below!