The Special Verbs That Are Also Nouns

Gerunds in English


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A gerund is a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. Adjective: gerundial or gerundival.

The term gerund is used in traditional grammar. Many contemporary linguists prefer instead to use the term -ing form.

A gerund accompanied by its objects, complements, and/or modifiers is called a gerund phrase or simply a noun phrase.

Like nouns, gerunds and gerund phrases can function as subjects, objects, and complements in a sentence. Unlike nouns, however, gerunds do not take inflections; in other words, they don't have distinct plural forms.

For a discussion of the differences between gerunds and present participles (both of which end in -ing), see Examples and Observations below.

From the Latin, "to carry on"

Examples and Observations

  • Going to college is expensive.
  • "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
    (William Arthur Ward)
  • Binx Bolling, the hero of Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, enjoys riding the bus that runs from Gentilly down Elysian Fields and into the French Quarter of New Orleans.
  • "I never believe nor disbelieve. If you will excuse my speaking frankly, I mean to observe you closely, and to decide for myself."
    (Wilkie Collins, Percy and the Prophet, 1877)
  • "They cut down elms to build asylums for people driven mad by the cutting down of elms."
    (George Barker, The Dead Seagull, 1950)
  • "Shooting paintballs is not an art form."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
  • "Humor is laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it."
    (Langston Hughes, "A Note on Humor," 1966)
  • "All talk of winning the people by appealing to their intelligence, of conquering them by impeccable syllogism, is so much moonshine."
    (H. L. Mencken, quoted by Carl Bode in Mencken, 1969)
  • "There are times when parenthood seems nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you."
    (Peter De Vries, The Tunnel of Love, 1954)
  • "This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
    (George Bernard Shaw, Epistle Dedicatory to Man and Superman, 1903)

Gerunds and Verbal Nouns

  • "Because they are nounlike, we can think of gerunds as names. But rather than naming persons, places, things, events, and the like, as nouns generally do, gerunds, because they are verbs in form, name activities or behaviors or states of mind or states of being."
    (Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, Understanding English Grammar. Allyn & Bacon, 1998)
  • "A gerund is derived from a verb by adding the suffix -ing. The result is still a verb, and it exhibits ordinary verbal properties, such as taking objects and adverbs. Example: In football, deliberately tripping an opponent is a foul. Here the verb trip occurs in its gerund form tripping, but this tripping is still a verb: it takes the adverb deliberately and the object an opponent. However, the entire phrase deliberately tripping an opponent, because of the gerund within it, now functions as a noun phrase, in this case as the subject of the sentence. So, a gerund is still a verb, but the phrase built around it is nominal, not verbal. "Very different is a verbal noun constructed with -ing. Though derived from a verb, a verbal noun is strictly a noun, and it exhibits nominal properties . . .." (R.L. Trask, Mind the Gaffe! Harper, 2006)

Differences Between Gerunds and Participles

  • "Because some [participles] are identical to gerunds, they can get confusing:
Visiting relatives can be fun.

Does this mean that the act of visiting (visiting as a gerund) can be fun, or that relatives who are visiting (visiting as a modifier) can be fun? We don't know."
(June Casagrande, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences. Ten Speed Press, 2010)

  • "Present participles and gerunds look similar as words, and they also look similar as phrases. Again, it is the -ing verbal form that causes this problem. To clearly distinguish these, we need to consider their grammatical functions. A present participle functions as a non-finite form of a verb phrase, after verbs of motion and position; it can be an adverb complement after these verbs; it can qualify/modify as an adjective does. In contrast, gerunds like nouns have naming roles and can occupy the place of nouns in many of their grammatical functions. Unlike nouns, they do not name persons, places, things, or events; they name actions, states, and behaviors."
    (Bernard O'Dwyer, Modern English Structures: Form, Function, and Position, 2nd ed. Broadview, 2006)
  • "How do linguists decide unusual or borderline cases? They test difficult examples against various prototypical patterns and decide which pattern the case at hand most resembles. In the following examples, is listening a gerund or an adverbial participle?
45a. While listening to the concerto, Marcia decided to study music.
45b. After listening to the concerto, Marcia decided to study music.

Listening is a participle in (45a), and the phrase is adverbial. It is a reduced form of the adverbial subordinate clause While she was listening to the concerto. Listening in (45b) has a different origin. It cannot be derived from After she was listening to the concerto. In fact, after is a preposition in (45b) and listening to the concerto is a gerund phrase that can be replaced by the pronoun that."
(Thomas P. Klammer, Muriel R. Schulz, and Angela Della Volpe, Analyzing English Grammar, 4th ed. Pearson, 2004

A Note on Gerundive

Although a small number of traditional grammarians use the term gerundive as a synonym for gerund, the gerundive is a distinct verb form in Latin grammar. "There is no grammatical equivalent [to the Latin gerundive] in English, and the term is rarely used" (Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, 2014).

Pronunciation: JER-end