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Gerunds

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English

Gerunds are an important word class in English. The name 'gerund' might sound intimidating, but we use gerunds regularly in daily life! Let's define the term and then see how they are used.

What is a gerund?

A gerund (/ˈʤerənd/) is a verb ending in -ing but which is used as a noun.

Here are some examples:

  • Drinking excessively is bad for your health.
  • The most important part of my morning routine is showering.
  • I love to go swimming.

Here, the words ending in -ing look like verbs, but they act as nouns. They are not describing an individual's actions, rather these gerunds are acting as the subject or the object of the sentence.

Gerunds image of the word gerund StudySmarterGerunds act as a sentence subject, pixabay.com

Gerund phrases

A gerund phrase includes the gerund and any words modifying it in a sentence. For example:

Jumping up and down is what is making you nauseous.

Here, the subject of the sentence is not just 'jumping', but the whole phrase 'Jumping up and down'. In fact, this phrase is a unit, so that you can't replace the gerund for another word and keep the meaning of the whole phrase. Let's replace jumping with a common -ing word:

Eating up and down is what is making you nauseous.

The fact that the sentence loses its meaning shows that the entire phrase 'jumping up and down' is the subject in this case. Let's replace the entire phrase with the 'eating' gerund:

Eating is what is making you nauseous.

The sentence makes sense again!

This is a useful tool for working out whether or not a sentence is a gerund or a gerund phrase. See if you can distinguish between the gerunds and gerund phrases:

  • The best way to lose weight is by playing badminton.
  • Sleeping often helps with tiredness.
  • To help with headaches, the doctor suggests drinking cold water.
  • Running is a helpful outlet.
  • Throwing his jacket over his shoulder, he walked out the front door.

Here are the answers:

  • The best way to lose weight is by playing badminton: GERUND PHRASE.
  • Sleeping often helps with tiredness.

That second example - 'Sleeping often helps with tiredness.' - is a peculiar one. It could be considered both a gerund and a gerund phrase. The speaker may be saying that frequent sleep helps with tiredness (sleeping often), or that sleep typically helps with tiredness (sleeping).

  • To help with headaches, the doctor suggests drinking cold water. GERUND PHRASE.
  • Running is a helpful outlet. GERUND.
  • Throwing his jacket over his shoulder, he walked out the front door. GERUND PHRASE.

Keep gerund phrases in mind when determining a sentence's subject/object.

Gerunds or present participles?

In the English language, it is important to distinguish between gerunds and the present participle. Though they look identical, they have different functions.

The present participle is a verb describing a current action ending in -ing .

Gerunds, present participles acting as verbs, studysmarterPresent participles act as verbs in a sentence, pixabay.com

Here are some examples of sentences using past participles:

  • Tim is wearing his new shirt.
  • While Jane was running she experienced an asthma attack.
  • Rachel heard me crying yesterday.

Can you tell the difference between these examples and the previous examples?

In these examples, the -ing words refer to either an ongoing or completed action. By contrast, in the previous examples, the -ing words were the subject of their respective sentences.

Present participles act as verbs in a sentence; gerunds act as nouns in a sentence.

Here is a tool for deciphering between a gerund and a present participle:

  • Replace the word with a noun

If you are trying to decide whether a word is a gerund or present participle, try replacing the gerund with a similar noun:

Running is a great form of exercise.

The sentence would remain grammatically correct if 'running' was replaced with a similar noun - e.g 'Tennis is a great form of exercise.'

Compare this to the following example:

She is running as a form of exercise.

The sentence would no longer be grammatically correct if 'running' was replaced with a similar noun - e.g 'She is tennis as a form of exercise'. Therefore, 'running' is a gerund in the first example and a present participle in the second example.

Which verbs are followed by gerunds?

Particular verbs can only be followed by gerunds, rather than infinitives.

Here is an example of a verb that can be followed by either a gerund or the infinitive form:

Despite my warnings, you continue to speak.

The sentence remains grammatically correct if the infinitive - to speak - is replaced by the gerund 'speaking'.

Despite my warnings, you continue speaking.

Not every verb can be followed by either an infinitive or gerund, however. Particular verbs become grammatically incorrect if the gerund is replaced with an infinitive, and vice versa.

I recommend using the Internet for research purposes.

If our gerund - using - is replaced with an infinitive, the sentence becomes grammatically incorrect. Recommend is one of the verbs that must be followed by a gerund.

Here are some other verbs that are only followed by gerunds:

  • stop: Stop running down the road.
  • enjoy: I really enjoy reading before bed.
  • keep: Michael keeps forgetting to turn the lights off.
  • justify: You really cannot justify deciding to leave.
  • finish: Did you finish washing the dishes?

Again, if there is uncertainty as to whether a verb cannot be followed by a gerund, try saying the sentence aloud. If it sounds strange, the verb most likely cannot be followed by a gerund. Particular verbs cannot be followed by gerunds. Here is an example:

Do you want to eat out tonight?

'Want' is a verb that cannot be followed by any gerund. To say 'Do you want eating out tonight?' is simply incorrect.

Gerunds with Prepositions

Gerunds, prepositions, StudySmarterPrepositions in the English language, freepik.com

When a verb is followed by a preposition a gerund must follow. Here are some examples:

  • She got his attention by wearing his new watch.
  • Alex was tired after walking for hours.
  • Where did you stay before arriving in the country?
  • They spoke only in passing.
  • You all worked against finding a solution.

Gerunds - Key takeaways

  • A gerund is a verb ending in -ing that is used as a noun.
  • A gerund phrase includes the gerund and any words modifying it in a sentence.
  • Present participles refer to either ongoing, completed, or future actions, while gerunds are the subject/object of their respective sentences.
  • If you are trying to decide whether a word is a gerund or present participle, try replacing the gerund with a similar noun.

Gerunds

A gerund is a verb ending in -ing that is used as a noun.

A gerund phrase is a gerund and any words modifying it in a sentence. 


Eg. in the sentence 'Eating at a restaurant is a fun activity', 'eating at a restaurant' is a gerund phrase.

First, the word must end in -ing. Second, if the sentence remains grammatically correct when the word is replaced with a noun, then the word is a gerund.

In the sentence 'Swimming is a good way to exercise', 'swimming' is a gerund (-ing word used as a noun).

Final Gerunds Quiz

Question

Fill in the blanks: In a sentence, gerunds ending in               -ing               act as ____ rather than ____.

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Answer

nouns; verbs

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Question

What is a gerund phrase?

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Answer

A gerund phrase is a gerund and any words modifying it within a sentence. 

Show question

Question

Is this a gerund or gerund phrase?: 

To help with headaches, the doctor suggests drinking cold water.

Show answer

Answer

'drinking cold water' is a gerund phrase because replacing only 'drinking' with another noun would make the sentence incorrect.

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Question

Is this a gerund or gerund phrase?: 

Driving often requires complete focus.

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Answer

Could be both - the sentence remains grammatically correct whether just the gerund or the gerund phrase is replaced.

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Question

What linguistic term is described as 'A word describing a current action ending in -ing.'?

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Answer

Present participle.

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Question

What is the difference in the role gerunds and present participles play in a sentence?

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Answer

Present participles refer to either an ongoing or completed action while gerunds are the    subject    of the sentence. 

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Question

Which of these words cannot be followed by a gerund?

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Answer

finish 

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Question

Fill in the blanks: When a verb is followed by a _________ a gerund must follow.

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Answer

preposition

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Question

What is the difference between a gerund and a gerund phrase?

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Answer

A gerund phrase also includes any words modifying it.

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Question

What tool is useful in deciphering whether an -ing word is a gerund?

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Answer

Replacing the gerund with another noun.

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Question

How do you identify a gerund in a sentence?

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Answer

The word must end in -ing and the sentence must remain sensical if the word is replaced with a similar noun. 

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Question

In the sentence: 'Writing stories is my favourite pastime', where is the gerund/gerund phrase.

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Answer

'Writing stories' is the gerund phrase.

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Question

True or False: Gerund phrases contain gerunds.

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Answer

True - Gerund phrases include gerunds and any other words modifying the gerund.

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Question

True or False: When a noun is followed by a preposition a gerund must follow. 

Show answer

Answer

False - When a VERB is followed by a preposition a gerund must follow. E.g - They spoke only in passing.

Show question

Question

True or False: 

Particular verbs can only be followed by gerunds and not infinitives. 

Show answer

Answer

True - E.g 'recommend' is a verb that can only be followed by a gerund.

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