Understanding Gerunds: The Verb-Noun Chameleon

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  • The versatile "-ing" suffix in English boasts an impressive array of functions, serving as both participles and, our main focus today, gerunds. Often overlooked or misunderstood, gerunds add depth and nuance to our language, becoming essential tools for clear communication. Whether you're a seasoned writer or a grammar novice, understanding gerunds unlocks their power to elevate your writing. Let's dive into the world of gerunds and explore how they can elevate your writing!

What's a Gerund?

A gerund is a verb form that ends in "–ing" but functions as a noun in a sentence. While it might look like a present participle (e.g., "running"), a gerund acts like a person, place, or thing. For example:

Verb:
  • I love to travel. (Love describes an action)
Gerund:
  • Traveling is my passion. ("Traveling" refers to the act of travel itself, acting as the subject)

Gerunds are created by adding the suffix "-ing" to a verb, transforming it into a noun while retaining its action-based meaning. This unique duality allows gerunds to serve various roles in a sentence, acting both as the subject and object.

Whenever a verb form ending in –ing is used, it is a gerund functioning as a noun, not a verb. Catch sight of this example:

  • Reading is my leisure.

Here, we see that the word, reading, is a noun used this way.

The rationale behind this fact is that it is only a noun that can replace it. For example, we can replace the noun Music so that we can achieve:

  • Music is my leisure.

This word swapping does not change the structure and the function of the sentence. This exposes that both reading and Music are acting as subjects. That is why reading is considered a noun rather than a verb.

Grammatical Functions of Gerund in Sentences

Gerunds typically substitute for nouns in sentences and fulfill nearly all the roles of nouns, including serving as subjectsOpens in new window, subject complementsOpens in new window, direct objectsOpens in new window, indirect objectsOpens in new window, and objects of prepositionsOpens in new window.

These functions are indicated in these examples:

  • Swimming is a great sport. →subject of the sentence
  • I enjoy swimming. →object of the verb “enjoy”
  • I am very fond of swimming. →object of the preposition “of”
  • The sport I enjoy most is swimming. →subject complement

A gerund has the same form as a participleOpens in new window. Participles are of three kinds:

  1. present participle, e.g., loving
  2. past participle e.g., loved and
  3. perfect participle e.g., having loved

The present participle and the perfect participle (but not the past participle) can function as gerunds. However, the more common form of the gerund is the present participle or the –ing form.

Forms Active voice Passive voice
Present or Continuous Loving Being loved.
Perfect Having loved Having been loved.

Difference Betweeen Gerund and Participle

The difference between a participle and a gerund lies in its function. A participle usually does the work of an adjectiveOpens in new window or adverbOpens in new window:

Participle examples:
  • Barking dogs are seldom dangerous. →Adj., modifying the noun “dogs”
  • Children spend most of their waking hours playing. →Adv., modifying the verb “spend”

The gerund, on the other hand, does the work of a noun, as we have observed earlier:

Gerund examples:
  • The barking of the dog disturbed the neighbours.→subject of the sentence
  • Children! Stop playing and go to bed.→object of verb “stop”

Key point: While both gerunds and present participles end in "–ing," they have distinct functions. Present participles typically modify nouns or verbs, while gerunds act as nouns themselves.

The Six Ways of Using Gerunds

Because gerunds and gerundial phrasesOpens in new window are nouns, they can be used in any way that a noun can be usedOpens in new window:

  1. Gerund as subject of a sentence

    For example:
    • Being king can be dangerous for your health.
    • Playing basketball takes up too much of her time.
  2. Gerund as subject Complement

    For example:
    • Andy’s dream is retiring young.→subject complement of the verb is
    • His major hobby has been fishing. [subject complement of the verb has been]
  1. Gerund as object of a transitive verb

    For example:
    • He didn't particularly like being king.→object of the verb like
    • Laurel is a great cook, she loves cooking. [object of the verb loves]
  2. Gerund as object of a preposition

    For example:
    • He wrote a book about being king.→object of the preposition about
    • With the amount of time Laurel spends in the kitchen, everyone believes she’s devoted to cooking.→object of the preposition to]
  1. Gerund in place of Infinitive

    Compare the following constructons:

    Infinitive:
    • To give is better than to take.
    • To die is better than to beg.
    Gerund in place of infinitive:
    • Giving is better than taking.
    • Dying is better than begging.
  2. Gerund in apposition to a noun

    For example:
    • His crime, forging of bank cheque, was detected by his neighbours.
    • His ambition, becoming a civil servant, could not be fulfilled.

Other Ways to Use Gerunds

Although gerunds are not speaking verbs but they flow within an idea of action, and they can express various shades of time when used with auxiliary verb forms.

Simple form:
  • Seeing those athletes perform is always a great thrill.
Perfective form:
  • We were thrilled about their having been in contention in the world championships before.
Passive form:
  • Being chosen, however, is probably not enough.
Perfective passive form:
  • Having been honored this way, they went out and earned it by winning the gold.

Gerunds can accompany a form of the verb to go in many idiomatic expressions.

For example:
  • Let's go shopping.
  • We went jogging yesterday.
  • She goes bowling every Friday night.

Gerunds can accompany certain verbs to express actual events.

For example
  • Did I mention reading that novel last summer?
  • I recommend leaving while we can.
  • I have quit smoking.
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