Learn English – Why is “I refuse running” wrong


I got into a discussion with another user in the comments section of this question. We disagreed over the following phrases:

I refuse running.

I decline running.

To me, they are both clearly wrong. The correct forms of the above sentences would be:

I refuse to run.

I decline to run.

It is late in my timezone and I am tired. I feel that this has something to do with "running" meaning the concept of running in general and "to run" being a particular instance but I cannot put my finger on exactly why the first sentences are wrong.

So, am I right? Are they wrong? If so, please explain why.
Or am I wrong and they are correct? If so, ditto.

Best Answer

You are right; but there is no general rule. Each verb has its own rule; the technical term is that each verb “licenses” complements of specific types. Refuse and decline, for instance, license either nouns or infinitives, but not gerunds:

I refuse dinner. I refuse to run. but not I refuse dining.
I decline the honor. I decline to run. but not I decline accepting.

Like, on the other hand, licenses all three:

I like Jim. I like running. I like to run.

Some verbs license multiple arguments, of different sorts or the same sort:

I made him a martini. I made him angry. I made him work.

In this case, the verb has different meanings with different arguments.

You just have to learn what arguments each verb takes, just as you learn which of your friends drink beer and which whiskey (or whisky) and which only water.