Gerund & Infinitive

Understanding 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).

    Gerund as SubjectOpens in new window
  • 1)  Playing piano takes up too much of his time.
  • Infinitive as Subject
  • 2)  To play piano for White-Fox is his utmost desire.
    Infinitive as Subject complementOpens in new window
  • 3)  His utmost desire is to play piano for White-Fox.
  • The Gerund can also play this role:
  • 4)  His utmost desire is playing piano for White-Fox.

  • 5)  His desire to play piano for White-Fox became an obsession. →Noun complement of the noun “desire”
  • 6)  I could never understand his desire to play piano for White-Fox.→Noun complement of the noun “desire”
  • 7)  His utmost desire in life, playing piano for White-Fox, seemed a goal within reach.→An appositive to the phrase “His utmost desire...”

The infinitive is often a complement used to help define an abstract nounOpens in new window. Below is a very partial list of abstract nouns, enough to suggest their nature.

Try following these nouns with an infinitive phrase:

And see how the phrase modifies and focuses the noun.

adviceappealcommand
desirefactinstruction
opportunityorderpermission
possibilitypreparationproposal
refusalreminderrequest
suggestiontendencywish
decisionmotivationplan
recommendationrequirement
  • 8)  She was hesitant to tell the coach of her plan.
  • 9)  She was reluctant to tell her parents also.
  • 10)  But she would not have been content to play high school ball forever.
Here is a list of adjectives that you will often find in such constructions.
aheadamazedanxiousapt
ashamedboundcarefulcertain
contentdelighteddetermineddisappointed
eagereligiblefortunateglad
happyhesitantliablelikely
sadshockedsorrysurprised
luckypleasedproudready
reluctantupset

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

  • 11)  She wrote a newspaper article about dealing with college recruiters.
  • 12)  She thanked her coach for helping her to deal with the pressure.
  • 13)  The committee had no choice except to elect Frogbellow chairperson.
  • 14)  What is left for us but to pack up our belongings and leave?

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.