Gerund & Infinitive

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Understanding the Noun Roles of Gerunds & Infinitives

GerundsOpens in new window and InfinitivesOpens in new window are verbOpens in new window formsOpens in new window that act as nounsOpens in new window, which mean they can do just about anything that a noun can do.

Although they name things, like other nouns, they usually name activities rather than people or objects.

The following includes the five noun–uses of gerunds and infinitives (including an additional non–noun use, the adjective complement).
  1. Gerunds and Infinitives can both function as the subject of a sentence.

    Gerund as SubjectOpens in new window
    • Playing piano takes up too much of his time. (1)
    Infinitive as Subject
    • To play piano for White-Fox is his utmost desire. (2)
  2. It is not impossible for an infinitive to appear at the beginning of a sentence as the subject—as shown in example (2) above—but it is more common for an infinitive to appear as a subject complement:

    Infinitive as Subject complementOpens in new window
    • His utmost desire is to play piano for White-Fox. (3)
    The Gerund can also play this role:
    • His utmost desire is playing piano for White-Fox. (4)
  3. Both of these verbal forms can further identify a noun when they play the role of noun complement and appositive. This is shown in 5), 6) and 7):

    • His desire to play piano for White-Fox became an obsession. (5)
    • Noun complement of the noun “desire”

    • I could never understand his desire to play piano for White-Fox. (6)
    • Noun complement of the noun “desire”

    • His utmost desire in life, playing piano for White-Fox, seemed a goal within reach. (7)
    • An appositive to the phrase “His utmost desire...”

    The infinitive is often a complement used to help define an abstract nounOpens in new window.

    Try following these nouns with an infinitive phrase:

    • Their desire to play in the championship game,
    • a motivation to pass all their courses,
    • her permission to stay up late,
    • a gentle reminder to do your work

    Notice how the phrase modifies and focuses the noun. Below is a very partial list of abstract nouns, enough to suggest their nature.

  1. Infinitive phrases often follow certain adjectives. When this happens, the infinitive is said to play the role of adjective complement, as shown in 8) through 10). (This is not a noun function, but we will include it here nonetheless.)

    • She was hesitant to tell the coach of her plan. (8)
    • She was reluctant to tell her parents also. (9)
    • But she would not have been content to play high school ball forever. (10)

Here is a list of adjectives that you will often find in such constructions.

  1. Although we do not find many infinitives in this next category.

    It is not uncommon to find gerunds taking on the role of object of prepositionOpens in new window, as 11) and 12) illustrate.

    • She wrote a newspaper article about dealing with college recruiters. (11)
    • She thanked her coach for helping her to deal with the pressure. (12)
  2. Two prepositions, except and but, will sometimes take an infinitive, as is the case 13) and 14).

    • The committee had no choice except to elect Frogbellow chairperson. (13)
    • What is left for us but to pack up our belongings and leave? (14)
  3. And, finally, both gerunds and infinitives can act as a direct objectOpens in new window: Here, however, all kinds of decisions have to be made, and some of these decisions will seem quite arbitrary.

The next study is about making the choice between gerund and infinitiveOpens in new window forms as direct object.

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