Gerunds

By Maeve Maddox

Like the word grammar itself, the grammatical term gerund is often mentioned with a shudder. If you already understand all about gerunds, this post is not for you. If you’d like to review the concept, read on.

A gerund is a verbal. If you’ve read previous posts about present and past participles, you know that a verbal is one of the principal parts of the verb that retains some verb functions at the same time it is being used as a different part of speech.

A gerund is an -ing verb form used as a noun.

Like a verb, a gerund can take objects and be modified by adverbs and adverbial phrases, but its function in a sentence is to serve as a noun–a noun that ends in -ing.

What do nouns do? Nouns are used as the following parts of a sentence:

1. Subject
2. Direct Object
3. Subject Complement
4. Object of a Preposition

Anything a noun can do, a gerund can do–because a gerund is a noun. A gerund is a noun that ends in -ing. Gerunds may be used alone or as part of a phrase.

1. Gerund as the subject of a sentence
Reading is her favorite pastime. (Reading is a gerund used alone as the subject of the sentence.)

Studying English has its rewards. (Studying is a gerund that has a direct object, “English.” The gerund phrase functions as the subject of the verb “has.”)

Picnicking in the woods has its downside. (Picnicking is a gerund modified by a prepositional phrase, “in the woods.” The gerund phrase is the subject of the verb “has.”)

2. Gerund as a direct object
My Aunt Rose loves traveling. (Traveling is a gerund used alone as the direct object of the verb “loves.”)

After a week in the wild, we appreciate sleeping inside. (Sleeping is a gerund modified by the adverb “inside.” The gerund phrase is the direct object of the verb “appreciate.”

Farhad enjoys singing in the shower. (Singing is a gerund modified by a prepositional phrase, “in the shower.” The gerund phrase is the direct object of the verb “enjoys.”

3. Gerund as a subject complement
My cats’ favorite occupation is sleeping. (Sleeping is a gerund that completes the being verb “is.”

Jack’s daily exercise is running laps. (Running is a gerund that has a direct object, “laps.” The gerund phrase completes the being verb “is.”

Hester’s hobby is gardening on her rooftop. (Gardening is a gerund modified by a prepositional phrase, “on her rooftop.” The gerund phrase completes the being verb “is” and restates the subject.

4. Gerund as the object of a preposition
His parents punished him for stealing. (Stealing is a gerund functioning as the object of the preposition “for.”)

The search party rescued the child by climbing a cliff. (Climbing is a gerund that has a direct object, “cliff.” The gerund phrase functions as the object of the preposition “by.”

Falstaff attempts to flee by hiding in a laundry basket. (Hiding is a gerund that has a prepositional phrase, “in a laundry basket.” The gerund phrase “hiding in a laundry basket” is itself the object of a preposition: “by.”)

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5 Responses to “Gerunds”

  • Tracie

    Thanks for capturing the essentials of gerunds. They are tricky, especially for non-native speakers. A complementary post would be the conundrum of gerunds and infinitives.

  • Julie R Butler

    Well, this is timely! I was looking just yesterday on this site to find out what the conventions are for making a gerund that’s functioning as a noun plural.

    My example is, “a series of vicious maulings.”

    Thanks for any help with this.

  • Precise Edit

    Julie- not sure what you mean about making a gerund. However, “maulings” is the object of the preposition “of.” As an object, it is a noun. Notice that it is modified by the adjective “vicious.” An adjective can only modify nouns and noun phrases.

  • venqax

    Wow. Spinning is still my head. Soome of this is exactly what we “intuitive” users of English need. Many of us, even published academic writers, know “proper” language only through our own innate sense of what sounds right. We use gerunds all the time, but have no idea what the name for them would be, or, from the other direction, couldn’t tell you who Gerund was. Some are like those musicians– many of whom are great– who can’t read a note of written music and wouldn’t know a mixolydian mode from an aeolian cadence (mixolydian a la mode they might imagine half right). I can’t honestly say it’s interesting to me, really, but it is stuff we need to know and it’s simply not taught anymore to general audiences. Grammar lessons are kind of like the shots you have to get before you get to go someplace exotic. But, hey, they keep you from dying there! Many thanks, MM!

  • Glenn Farrell

    Hi! This is where I always trip up… because where I hang out, almost universally -ing words are just known as participles and then someone said to me, “hey you know those are really gerunds.” And gerunds have made my life hell ever since. Your recent post on present participles and today’s on gerunds have helped… a lot… I think.

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