4 Types of Gerunds and Gerund Phrases

By Mark Nichol

A gerund is one of three classes of words called verbals — words based on verbs and expressing an action or a state of being but serving another grammatical function. (The other two are participles and infinitives.) A gerund, which functions as a noun, can consist of a single word or a phrase.

The four types of gerunds and gerund phrases follow:

1. Subject
Gardening is my favorite hobby. (Gardening is normally a verb, but here it is the name of an activity.)

Gardening in the summertime is a challenge because of the heat. (The gerund is followed by a modifying adverbial phrase, forming a gerund phrase.)

2. Direct Object
My neighbors admire my gardening. (The admiration is not for the action of gardening, but for the results of the action.)

I am enjoying my gardening this year. (The direct object of the subject is “my gardening this year.”)

3. Object of Preposition
I have received several awards for my gardening. (The awards have been given for the results of the activity.)

Some people consider my interest in gardening an obsession. (The gerund phrase is “gardening an obsession.”)

4. Subject Complement
My favorite hobby is gardening. (Again, gardening is described as something done, not the act of doing it. The statement is the inverse of the first sentence in this group; here “My favorite hobby” is the subject, and gardening is its complement.)

I do my gardening in the morning. (The phrase “gardening in the morning” is the subject complement.)

Confusion with Present Participle Phrases
If a sentence resembling one of these statements includes a comma, it’s likely to contain a present participle phrase, not a gerund phrase. For example, the sentence “Gardening in the summertime, I built up a resistance to hot weather” contains a present participle phrase, which includes a participle, a verb functioning as an adjective or an adverb.

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25 Responses to “4 Types of Gerunds and Gerund Phrases”

  • Dan Erickson

    Thanks for the short, concise explanations on gerunds.

  • Marcela

    Hi Mark, good article.

    However, on point 3 I beg to differ:
    Some people consider my interest in gardening an obsession. (The gerund phrase is “gardening an obsession.”)

    The gerund phrase cannot be “gardening an obession” since what is an obsession is “my interest”. It would be as you say if my interest were to garden an obsession (to make an obsession grow, if you will).

    Please tell me what you think; English is only my second language (and so I read your blog to improve it) but that phrase just does not sound right.

    Keep the good work up.

  • thebluebird11

    @Mark: Gerunds might as well be gerbils, for all I can figure this out! I am not proud of being able to speak English without understanding the basics of grammar (I have never told my friends; only DWT knows this LOL). I know what a gerund is; that is, I can recognize one when I see one. I was rolling along fine with examples #1 and #2 above, but when I got to your second example in #3, I came to a screaching halt. “Gardening an obsession”? If the words or word order of this sentence were changed, would this change the ruling here? Let’s say the sentence was, “Some people consider my interest in gardening to be an obsession.” Or, “My interest in gardening is considered, by some people, an obsession.” Now what?

  • Dale A. Wood

    @thebluebird11: You are absolutely correct. In Example 3, Mr. Nichol left out “to be”, and that sentence should have concluded with:
    “consider my interest in gardening to be an obsession”.

    This is a widespread mistake in English by people who do not realize that the verb “consider” should be followed by an infinitive phrase starting with “to be”. For example:
    “I consider Christine McVie and Donna Summer to be the two finest singers whom I have haver heard.”

    We also see the same kind of problem with the verb “claim”.
    I have seen sentences along the lines of “They claim Alaska…”
    Nope, that is impossible. Alaska already belongs to the United States, and there is no way that anyone else can claim Alaska.”
    Likewise, nobody can claim Greenland, since it belongs to Denmark and it is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and by international treaty, nobody can claim Antarctica. (All such purported claims to parts of Antarctica were suspended decades ago by the Antarctic Treaty. Also, the United States and some other countries do not recognize any such “claims”.)

    The grammatical omission was the word “that”. “Smitty claims that Alaska is the coldest, loneliest place that he has ever visited,” is a reasonable sentence. “Smitty claims Alaska…” is not.

  • thebluebird11

    …and I do apologize for the screaching [sic] typo. It was a glitch in the typing box here when I had started the sentence differently and didn’t delete everything I needed to delete.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @thebluebird11: “only DWT knows this LOL” ??

    “only the Devil With a forked Tail knows this” ?
    “only Damnation With Torment knows this” ?
    The German word for Devil is “der Teufel”, so
    “only Dancing With der Teufel knows this”?

    “Das Tanzung mit den Teufel” ? LOL

  • Dale A. Wood

    The writer of this article did not mentiion that all gerunds in English are made of the present participle of the verb. This is the form that ends in “ing”.

    In German, there are different forms:
    die Tanzen – the infinitive “to dance”
    das Tanzung – the gerund “dancing”
    tanzund – the present participle “dancing”, which is usually used as an adjective
    getanzt – the past participle
    der Tanz – the noun that mean “dance”

    In English, we have it much easier, especially since the three noun forms {Tanz, Tanzen, Tanzung} have three different genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In German, all infinitives are feminine, and all gerunds are neuter, which does simplify things a little bit.

    Someone did point out to me rather recently that in English, all of the present participles are regular. Is it possible to find irregular ones in other languages? Mama mia!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Oops, sorry. I typed “tanzund” when I should have typed “tanzend”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Gardening in the summertime, I built up a resistance to hot weather” is not correct. It should be stated as:

    “While gardening in the summertime, I built up a resistance to hot weather”

    “While gardening in the summertime” is clearly a subordinate adjectival phrase, but the interpretation of the other one is sheer guesswork.
    D.A.W.

  • thebluebird11

    @DAW: DWT = Daily Writing Tips…I used to play Acrophobia so let’s not get started in that direction or it will be a loooooong day.

  • Warsaw Will

    “Some people consider my interest in gardening an obsession.” – here’s my reading:

    Subject – “Some people”
    Verb – “consider”
    Direct object – “my interest in gardening”
    Object complement – “an obsession”

    The verb consider often takes an object complement, either a noun, as here, or an adjective, as in “He considered her actions foolhardy”. And as others have said – “gardening”, not “gardening an obsession” (which makes no sense), is the object of the preposition “in”.

    5. Indirect object (rare) -“He gave her wonderful singing top marks”

    6. Appositive – His hobby, gardening, takes up all his spare time.

  • Warsaw Will

    @DAW and thebluebird11

    “Some people consider my interest in gardening an obsession.” Mark’s sentence is absolutely fine; it’s only his interpretation that is a problem. There is no need for “to be”, as “an obsession” is, as I said, an object complement. Other examples of object complements are:

    She thought him charming. (DO – him; OC – charming)
    They elected Mr James chairman. (DO – Mr James; OC – chairman)
    We’ve named our son John. (DO – John; OC – John)
    (Henry) James considered The Ambassadors his most “perfect” work of art (DO – The Ambassadors; OC – his most “perfect” work of art)

    Just Google “object complement”.

  • Warsaw Will

    Oops!

    We’ve named our son John. (DO – our son; OC – John)

  • dragonwielder

    Ah, another article that would’ve been extremely helpful for me way back when learning to write in grade school & high school…I’m pretty sure I never knew what a gerund was until college!

    Good article, Mark! Thanks for the explanations!

  • thebluebird11

    @Warsaw Will: Read my lips: I do not understand all this! I will never understand it. I cannot parse a sentence, I don’t know the parts of speech, I don’t know the difference between an object complement or a direct compliment. I am happy to be able to speak and write the language very well, and embarrassed to admit that I can’t understand the fine details of grammar. In the words of Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull) I am too old to rock ‘n’ roll but too young to die. OK, I’m lying; I’m not too old to rock ‘n’ roll and not too young to die. But I’m too old to learn grammar!

  • Warsaw Will

    @thebluebird11 – Thanks for giving me a good chuckle :)). But I doubt you’re much older than I am. Coincidentally, Jethro Tull was the first band I ever saw live, at the Marquee Club back in ’68.

    I’ve only really learnt these sort of grammatical terms in the last few years, first as an EFL teacher and second because I write a language blog for foreign students. The fact that you comment on this blog means you’re obviously interested, and there are plenty of grammar sites to help you (my own included).

    You could try Googling “exploring gerunds and gerund phrases” for example, take the first one, and see how you get on.

  • Alan Stransman

    All good stuff, but I am reminded of my days as a college English instructor, during which I would often say to a student, “your sentence lacks a verb”, to which the inevitable response would be, “What’s a verb?”.

    Gerund?

    You’re kidding, right?

  • thebluebird11

    @Warsaw Will: I ALMOST went to see Tull in 1975, but my mother wouldn’t let me go with the guy who invited me, whom I had only just met. I stewed about that for a long time, but have seen them in concert a couple of times since. As far as the grammar issue, however, if I had nothing else to do but eat bonbons, I would probably take your advice and sit down and tackle grammar. It is on my bucket list, along with learning Esperanto, Latin, photography and kayaking LOL. Short list, eh?! 😉

  • Rob Kennedy

    I have to say, as much as I love your tips, your site, and your course that I did, you do not explain some things in plain English.

    As much as my 52 years of life and almost 30 years of self-education has taught me, I cannot understand phrases such as this, “words based on verbs and expressing an action or a state of being but serving another grammatical function.”

    To me, it’s simply not clear. Isn’t your audience people learning about English?

    There is a clearer way to explain this.

  • Warsaw Will

    @Rob Kennedy – In answer to your particular example, I’ll see if I can explain. Take the example of the word ‘smoking’. This is a gerund from the verb ‘to smoke’ – it is one particular form of the verb, the same form as the present participle, also known as the -ing form.

    So ‘smoking’ could be said to be “a word based on a verb and expressing an action”. But when it’s a gerund, we are using it as a noun, so then it is “serving another grammatical function”

    ‘Smoking is bad for you’ – ‘smoking’ is the subject, a noun function
    ‘He’s given up smoking’ – now ‘smoking’ is the direct object of the phrasal verb ‘give up’, also a noun function.

    As for verbs ‘expressing a state of being’ we need look no further than ‘be’, whose gerund (still a verb form) is ‘being’. For example, we can use the gerund phrase ‘being rich’, again with a noun function:

    ‘Being rich has its advantages.’ – subject (noun function)
    ‘He loves being rich.’ – direct object (noun function)

    Put basically, a verb form is functioning as a noun, not as a verb.

  • Bob Howell

    Finally getting around to this after more than a week … Great discussion of the “gardening an obsession” issue — and I agree (1) that “an obsession” is an object complement, and (2) that “to be” isn’t necessary; it’s just an elliptical construction.

    My surprise was that no one commented on Mr. Nichol’s analysis of this sentence: “I do my gardening in the morning.” Doesn’t that look like a direct object (of the transitive verb “do”) rather than a subject complement? (Contrast it with the first example in that section: “My favorite hobby is gardening.”)

    In any event, great article and stimulating discussion!

  • Warsaw Will

    @Bob Howell – well spotted. Subject complements only happen with linking (or copular verbs) like “be, become, seem” etc. and refer back to the subject –
    “My favorite hobby is gardening” – my favourite hobby = gardening
    But –
    “I do my gardening in the morning” – I = my gardening? Obviously not.

    Subject – I
    Transitive verb – do
    Direct object – my gardening
    Prepositional phrase – in the morning

    And to be a bit nickpitty, I also have problems with this one:
    “I am enjoying my gardening this year. (The direct object of the subject is “my gardening this year.”)”

    I don’t think “this year” is part of the direct object at all. Gerunds still have some verbal functions, and can have their own direct objects. Take this example – “I like walking my dogs” – ‘walking my dogs’ (and not ‘walking’) is certainly the direct object of ‘like’, but we also have ‘my dogs’ as a direct object of ‘walking’. But ‘this year’ isn’t a direct object of ‘my gardening’, it is an adverbial modifying ‘enjoying’.

    Subject – I
    Verb – am enjoying
    Direct object – my gardening
    Adverbial of time – this year

  • Rhonda White

    My son just completed 8th grade. He is doing summer workbooks per my instructions. I found this site while searching for a “simple” explanation on gerunds. Yeah, right…

    Here’s the thing…I read quite well, and I have been doing so since I was very young. My spelling and my vocabulary skills are also proficient. I am not now, nor have I ever been good at diagramming sentences because I could never quite master the “rules” of grammar. As a result,I could write a good sentence, but I could not tell you why it was right or good.

    That said, I think I communicate with more clarity than most, um, scholars. It would be nice if your explanations did not require explanation. It appears that even the scholars cannot agree on what constitutes a gerund, so I would suppose I’m a lost cause.

  • cicada819

    @Warsaw Will
    Thanks for clarifying some of unclear parts; your explanation is very helpful indeed. Your blog is also really great help (I just couldn’t leave any comment on it though: how can I contact you?)

    Thanks for all your great tips in writing (Grammar etc.), Mark. It has been greatly useful and I look forward to reading other articles of yours.

  • Jan Paula Aquino

    I need help. Please tell me if there is a gerund in this sentence.

    Why is he going to study Chinese next year?

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