Gerunds

Gerunds

A gerund is a noun formed from a verb. All gerunds end -ing.

Easy Examples of Gerunds

  • drinking (from the verb to drink)
  • driving (from the verb to drive)
  • visiting (from the verb to visit)
A gerund is a verbal. A verbal is non-verb created from a verb.

More about Gerunds

Unlike a normal noun, a gerund maintains some verb-like properties. Like a verb, a gerund can take a direct object and be modified with an adverb.
  • drinking a flagon
  • (The gerund drinking has a direct object, a flagon.)
  • driving erratically
  • (The gerund driving is modified with an adverb, erratically.)
  • regularly visiting the hospital
  • (The gerund visiting is modified with an adverb, regularly, and has a direct object, the hospital.)

Real-Life Examples of Gerunds

Here are examples gerunds (underlined) in some quotations with their roles as nouns explained.
  • You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans. (President Ronald Reagan)
  • (Here, the gerund eating is the object of the preposition of (which is a role always played by a noun or a pronoun). The gerund eating has taken a direct object, jellybeans. Remember, taking a direct object is one of the gerund's verby traits.)
  • Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing. (Actor Ralph Richardson)
  • (Here, the gerund Acting is the subject of the sentence, which is a role played by a noun (or a pronoun). The gerunds keeping and coughing are objects of the prepositions of and from. Also, notice that keeping has taken a direct object (a large group of people), and normal nouns can't do that. The direct object of a gerund is sometimes called a gerund complement.)
  • Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need. (Writer Kahlil Gibran)
  • (Here, the gerunds giving and taking are both acting as subject complements, a role often played by a noun.)
  • I love acting. It is so much more real than life. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • (Here, the gerund acting is the direct object of the verb love. Direct objects are always nouns (or pronouns).)
A gerund will often be at the head a gerund phrase. A gerund phrase (show in bold) consists of a gerund, its objects and all modifiers.
  • Eating blackberries quickly will make you ill. (Here, the gerund phrase consists of the gerund eating, the direct object blackberries and the adverb quickly.)
  • I like to play blackjack. I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to sitting in a semicircle. (Comedian Mitch Hedberg)
  • (Here, the first gerund (gambling) does not head a gerund phrase, but the second (sitting) does. The phrase in a semicircle is an adverb (called an adverbial phrase) that modifies the gerund sitting.) That's all pretty tidy. Let's start building in some complications.
  • Eating blackberries without washing them will make you ill.
  • (This is similar to the example above, but now our adverb is without washing them. It's an adverbial phrase within our gerund phrase that includes its own gerund phrase, washing them.)
  • Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. (Biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi) (Here, the direct objects of the gerunds seeing and thinking are what everybody has seen and what nobody has thought. These direct objects are both noun clauses. This example has been added to highlight that nouns (just like adverbs and adjectives) can be phrases or clauses too (not just single words), and this point is important for unpicking the components (i.e., the objects and modifiers) within a gerund phrase.)
Even though all gerunds end with the suffix -ing, not every word that ends -ing is a gerund. The other common type of word which ends -ing is the present participle. Like gerunds, present participles are formed from verbs (making them verbals), but they are not used as nouns. Present participles are used as adjectives or when forming verbs in a progressive tense.
  • Running the tap will clear the air pocket.
  • (This is a gerund.)
  • Can you fix the running tap?
  • (This is a present participle as an adjective.)
  • The tap was running for an hour.
  • (This is a present participle used to form the past progressive tense.)

Why Should I Care about Gerunds?

Using gerunds and gerund phrases comes easily to native English speakers, and, as a rule, gerunds do not cause many writing issues. In fact, gerunds come so easily to native speakers, you can use them to create natural, flowing sentences.

One of the biggest failings with business writing is using too many nouns (normal nouns, I mean, not gerunds). Look at this example:
  • We will discuss the reprimand of John for being in violation of the regulations.
  • (The writer has overused nouns, making the sentence sound stilted.)
Writers often favour nouns (and the prepositions needed to make those nouns work) to make their writing sound more corporate. Usually, that's bad judgement by the writer because overusing nouns often makes your text harder to read as well as jolty and stale. Your readers will appreciate cleaner, smoother sentences.

Producing cleaner, smoother sentences is best achieved with a leaning towards verbs in your word choice, but gerunds (given they're pretty verb-like themselves) can help too.
  • We will discuss reprimanding John for violating the regulations.
  • (This 9-word version featuring two gerunds is far smoother than the 14-word version above. As it is easier to read and shorter, it saves time, braincells and ink.)

Key Point

  • The replacement of a normal noun with a gerund can help with the creation of a shorter, smoother sentence.

  • Or, using gerunds…
  • Replacing a normal noun with a gerund can help with creating a shorter, smoother sentence.
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