Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
"The key to becoming an expert..." OR "The key to become an expert..." ?
Tuesday October 27th 2015
Which is correct, and why: "The key to becoming an expert..." or "The key to become an expert..."? — Min Kyung-jun, South Korea
The correct form is “The key to becoming an expert….” The reason is that key should always be followed by a noun, and becoming is a gerund, or noun form, of the verb become.
Here are some additional sentences with key followed by a noun:
The key to improving your English is practice.
Having a job that you enjoy is the key to happiness.
The key to avoiding the common cold is washing your hands frequently.
The noun secret, which is a synonym for key, behaves the same way:
The secret to becoming a good writer is to read.
However, the noun way, which is another synonym for key, should be followed by a verb rather than a gerund, even though it can be followed by other kinds of nouns:
The best way to travel is by train. (way + verb)
There is no easy way to say this: You have to leave. (way + verb)
The way to her heart is to appreciate what she does. (way + noun)
So unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a general rule that you can follow to remember whether you should use a gerund or a verb after nouns like key, secret, and way. My advice is to remember an example sentence for each one.