How to Use Gerunds in English

The gerund in English is also known as the 'ing' form. The following articles describes the different uses of the gerund in English


Base form of the verb: The verb without anything, i.e. play, go, work, eat, think, etc.
Infinitive form of the verb: The verb with 'to', i.e. to sing, to work, to play, to eat, etc.
Gerund or present participle: The verb + 'ing', i.e. studying, eating, driving, enjoying, etc.

Spelling of the Gerund

Generally speaking, spelling the gerund is as easy as adding 'ing' to the base form of the verb to make the gerund. Here are three important exceptions:

  • Double the final consonant of a one syllable word ending in consonant - vowel - consonant pattern. For example, 'dig' becomes 'digging', 'put' becomes 'putting', 'plan' becomes 'planning'. For words longer than one syllable, there is usually no need to double the final consonant. (Exception: begin - beginning).
  • Drop 'e' at then end of a verb, add 'ing'. For example: write -> writing, take -> taking
  • Verbs ending in '-ie' drop the '-ie' replaced by 'y'. For example: die -> dying, lie -> lying

The gerund can be thought of as the noun form of a verb. As such it is used in different situations:

Gerund as Subject of the Sentence

Use the gerund in a gerund phrase (i.e. playing tennis, going to church, thinking about vacation, etc.) at the beginning of a sentence as the subject of the sentence.

Here are some examples:

Playing tennis takes lots of physical and mental skill.
Going to church is an important part of many people's lives.
Thinking about vacation makes me happy!

Gerund as Object of a Verb

Many verbs often combine with a second verb in the gerund form. The second verb in the gerund is the object of the verb.

Here are some examples:

Mary enjoys watching TV late at night.
Alan admits cheating on the last test.
Susan imagines having children later in her life.

As you probably know, verbs can also combine with infinitives as the object of the verb. Make sure to study which verbs take the gerund or the infinitive as objects.

Gerund as Object of a Preposition

When followed by a verb, prepositions always take the gerund form. Here are some examples:

Peter arrived at work after fighting the morning rush hour traffic.
Are you able to remember all the facts without googling them?
She thinks Mary is against buying a new house.

Remember that prepositions are often the last word in phrasal verbs such as 'look into', 'put up with', 'look forward to', etc. 

Tim thought about buying a new car.
We are going to look into renting an apartment in Hawaii next summer.
I look forward to seeing you soon.

Gerund as Subject Compliment

Subject compliments are used to define the subject with linking verbs, most importantly 'be', but also 'seem' and 'become'. In other words, the gerund is used to define what the subject is. Here are some examples:

Her biggest wish in life is traveling around the world.
My intention is making sure you understand the gerund.
Her questions seem waiting for answers.

Making the Gerund Negative

Making a gerund negative is easy. Just add 'not' before the gerund. Here are examples of each type of gerund use using the gerund in the negative form.

Not wanting anything in life can make you very happy.
Alisan enjoys not eating fatty food, and she's lost a lot of weight!
I look forward to not working on my vacation.
His greatest wish in life is not marrying the wrong person.

Gerund as Verb? 

The gerund is often confused with the present participle. That's because the gerund looks exactly like the present participle - they both are formed by adding 'ing' to the verb. However, the function of the gerund is as a noun. The function of the present participle is in use with continuous (or progressive) tenses. 

We're waiting for the bus. -> are waiting = present participle used in the present continuous 
Waiting for the bus is boring. -> waiting for the bus = gerund as subject of sentence
They've been working on the project for two years. -> have been working = present participle used in the present perfect continuous
I look forward to working on the project. -> working on the project = gerund as object of a preposition