Geoff Pullum has a good Lingua Franca post about a sentence he found in the preface to Interpreting Imperatives, by Magdalena Kaufmann: “Arnim von Stechow … has never stopped to present me with thought provoking questions.” As he says, she clearly meant what has to be expressed in English by either “has never ceased to present me” or “has never stopped presenting me”; the interesting point is the subtle difference between the verbs and the implications for language learning:
I have no idea how a native speaker of German learning English can be expected to detect that one of two almost-synonyms forbids the following infinitival clause from being interpreted as a complement (i.e., from denoting the activity that is discontinued), while the other permits it.
Indeed, I have no idea how you or I learned it when we were toddlers. Nobody explains to kids which verbs take which types of complements. Hardly anyone has an adequate conscious grasp of the necessary facts. There are thousands of verbs, and at least half a dozen very different kinds of complement clause. The crucial fact here is recorded in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language on Page 1228 (note that cease is on the list in example display , but stop is not). But The Cambridge Grammar runs to over 1,750 pages excluding end matter. Nobody is explicitly taught everything that appears that it covers. A huge majority of what they learn is acquired through some natural process of absorption, on the basis of simply observing people say things to each other (and, after a certain point, perhaps also reading things that people have written down). We don’t understand this process.
The astonishing thing to me is not that a highly intelligent semantics Ph.D. should have fallen into the stop/cease trap. The astonishing thing is that foreign adults like Professor Kaufmann learn English so well and make so few mistakes.