What is a Gerund?

The English –ing is found in an impressive array of functions. It can be used as what is traditionally called a “participleOpens in new window”, and our subject of focus “gerund”.

Gerunds are verbal nounsOpens in new window that denote the names of actions and look like verbsOpens in new window but act like nouns. They always end in –ing.

Gerunds generally take the places of nouns when they occur in sentences and perform practically all the functions of nouns including subjectsOpens in new window, subject complementsOpens in new window, direct objectsOpens in new window, indirect objectsOpens in new window, and objects of prepositionsOpens in new window. These functions are indicated in the examples below:

Functions of Gerund in Sentences
  • Swimming is a great sport.
Subject of the sentence
  • I enjoy swimming.
Object of the verb ‘enjoy’
  • I am very fond of swimming.
Object of the preposition ‘of’
  • The sport I enjoy most is swimming.
Subject complement

The functions of the present participleOpens in new window swimming in the sentences above are exactly the same as those of the noun. Thus, gerunds are participlesOpens in new window doing the work of nounsOpens in new window.

Forms of Gerund

A gerund has the same form as a participle. Participles are of three kinds: present participle “loving,” past participle “loved,” and perfect participle “having loved”. The present participle and the perfect participle (but not the past participle) can function as gerunds. However, the more common form of the gerund is the present participle or the –ing form.

Forms Active voice Passive voice
Present or Continuous Loving Being loved.
Perfect Having loved Having been loved.
Difference Betweeen Gerunds and Participles

The difference between a participle and a gerund lies in its function. A participle usually does the work of an adjective or adverb:

  • Barking dogs are seldom dangerous.
Adj., modifying the noun “dogs”
  • Children spend most of their waking hours playing.
Adv., modifying the verb “spend”

The gerund, on the other hand, does the work of a noun, as we have observed earlier:

  • The barking of the dog disturbed the neighbours.
Subject of the sentence
  • Children! Stop playing and go to bed.
Object of verb “stop”

The Six Ways of Using Gerunds

Because gerunds and gerundial phrasesOpens in new window are nouns, they can be used in any way that a noun can be used:

As Subject of a sentence.
  • Being king can be dangerous for your health.
  • Playing basketball takes up too much of her time.
As Subject Complements
  • Andy’s dream is retiring young. [subject complement of the verb is]
  • His major hobby has been fishing. [subject complement of the verb has been]
As object of a transitive verb.
  • He didn't particularly like being king. [object of the verb like]
  • Laurel is a great cook, she loves cooking. [object of the verb loves]
As object of a preposition.
He wrote a book about being king. [object of the preposition about]
  • With the amount of time Laurel spends in the kitchen, everyone believes she’s devoted to cooking. [object of the preposition to]

Using Gerund in place of Infinitive
Gerund in place
of infinitive
  • To give is better than to take.
  • To die is better than to beg.
  • Giving is better than taking.
  • Dying is better than begging.

Gerund in apposition to a noun.
  • His crime, forging of bank cheque, was detected by his neighbours.
  • His ambition, becoming a civil servant, could not be fulfilled.
Although Gerunds are not speaking verbs but they flow within an idea of action, and they can express various shades of time when used with auxiliary verb forms.
Simple Form Seeing those athletes perform is always a great thrill.
Perfective Form We were thrilled about their having been in contention in the world championships before.
Passive Form Being chosen, however, is probably not enough.
Perfective Passive Forms Having been honored this way, they went out and earned it by winning the gold.
Gerunds can accompany a form of the verb to go in many idiomatic expressions:
  • Let's go shopping.
  • We went jogging yesterday.
  • She goes bowling every Friday night.
Gerunds can accompany certain verbs to express actual events:
  • Did I mention reading that novel last summer?
  • I recommend leaving while we can.
  • I have quit smoking.