Gerund

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The gerund (/ˈɛrənd/ or /ˈɛrʌnd/) is a non-finite verb form that can function as a noun in Latin and English grammar. The English gerund ends in -ing (as in I enjoy playing basketball). The same verb form also serves as the English present participle (which has an adjectival or adverbial function) and as a pure verbal noun. Thus the -ing form in the English language can function as a noun, verb, adjective or sometimes adverb; in certain sentences the distinction can be arbitrary.

The gerund is the form that names the action of the verb (for instance, playing is the action of "to play"). In some cases, a noun ending in -ing sometimes serves as a gerund (as in I like building / I like building things, I like painting / I like painting pictures, and I like writing / I like writing novels), while at other times serving as a non-gerund indicating the product resulting from an action (as in I work in that building, That is a good painting, and Her writing is good). The latter case can often be distinguished by the presence of a determiner before the noun, such as that, a, or her in these examples.

The Latin gerund (gerundium) is a verb form which behaves similarly to a noun, although it can only appear in certain oblique cases. (It should not be confused with the Latin gerundive, which is similar in form, but has a passive, adjectival use.)

In relation to other languages, the term gerund may be applied to a form which has noun-like uses like the Latin and English gerunds, or in some cases to various other non-finite verb forms, such as adverbial participles.

Gerund comes from the Latin gerundium, which itself derives from the gerundive of the Latin verb gero, namely gerundus, meaning "(which is) to be carried out".

Gerunds in various languages[edit]

Meanings of the term gerund as used in relation to various languages are listed below.

  • As applied to Arabic, it refers to the verb's action noun, known as the masdar form (Arabic: المصدر). This form ends in a tanwin and is generally the equivalent of the -ing ending in English.
  • As applied to English, it refers to the -ing form of a verb when it is used, as a noun (for example, the verb reading in the sentence "I enjoy reading.").[1] See the sections below for further detail.
  • As applied to French, it refers either to the adverbial participle—also called the gerundive—or to the present adjectival participle.
  • As applied to German, Dutch, and the other continental West Germanic languages it refers to a neuter verbal noun that is identical or similar in form to the infinitive.
  • As applied to Hebrew, it refers either to the verb's action noun, or to the part of the infinitive following the infinitival prefix (also called the infinitival construct).
  • As applied to Italian, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called the gerundio, formed by appending -ando or -endo, to the verb stem, like how litigare becomes litigando and cadere becomes cadendo.
  • As applied to Japanese, it designates verb and verbals adjective forms in dictionary form paired with the referral particle no, which turns the verbal into a concept or property noun, or also can refer to the -te form of a verb.
  • As applied to Korean, it refers to the word '것'('thing') modified by the adjective form of the verb.
  • As applied to Latin, its form is based on the participle ending, similarly to English. The –ns ending is replaced with -ndus, and the preceding ā or ē is shortened. However, the gerund is only ever seen in the accusative form (-ndum), genitive form (-ndi), dative form (-ndo) or ablative form (-ndo). (See Latin conjugation.) If the gerund is needed in the nominative form, the present infinitive is used instead.
  • As applied to Macedonian, it refers to the verb noun formed by adding the suffix -јќи (-jki) to the verb form, like in јаде (jade, he eats) — јадејќи (jadejki, while eating).
  • As applied to Persian, it refers to the verb's action noun, known as the ism-masdar form (Persian: اسم مصدر).
  • As applied to Portuguese, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called gerúndio.
  • As applied to Romanian, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called the gerunziu, formed by appending -ând or -ind, to the verb stem, like in cântând/fugind".
  • As applied to Spanish, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called in Spanish the gerundio.
  • As applied to Turkish, it refers to the Turkish verbal nouns formed by appending -ma or -me, depending on vowel harmony,( not to confuse with the negational -ma postfix.)


In other languages, it may refer to almost any non-finite verb form; however, it most often refers to an action noun, by analogy with its use as applied to English or Latin.

Gerunds in English[edit]

In English, the gerund is one of the uses of the form of the verb ending in -ing (for details of its formation and spelling, see English verbs). This same verb form has other uses besides the gerund: it can serve as a present participle (used adjectivally or adverbially), and as a pure verbal noun.

A gerund behaves as a verb within a clause (so that it may be modified by an adverb or have an object); but the resulting clause as a whole (sometimes consisting of only one word, the gerund itself) functions as a noun within the larger sentence.

For example, consider the sentence "Eating this cake is easy." Here the gerund is the verb eating, which takes an object this cake. The entire clause eating this cake is then used as a noun, which in this case serves as the subject of the larger sentence.

An item such as eating this cake in the foregoing example is an example of a non-finite verb phrase; however, because phrases of this type do not require a subject, it is also a complete clause. (Traditionally such an item would be referred to as a phrase, but in modern linguistics it has become common to call it a clause.) A gerund clause such as this is one of the types of non-finite clause.

Formation[edit]

A gerund has four forms — two for the active voice and two for the passive:[2]

Active Passive
Present or Continuous Loving Being loved
Perfect Having loved Having been loved

Examples of use [edit]

The following sentences illustrate some uses of gerund clauses, showing how such a clause serves as a noun within the larger sentence. In some cases the clause consists of just the gerund (although in many such cases the word could equally be analyzed as a pure verbal noun).

  • Swimming is fun. (gerund as subject of the sentence)
  • I like swimming. (gerund as direct object)
  • I never gave swimming all that much effort. (gerund as indirect object)
  • Eating biscuits in front of the television is one way to relax. (gerund phrase as subject)
  • Do you fancy going out? (gerund phrase as direct object)
  • On being elected president, he moved with his family to the capital. (gerund phrase as complement of a preposition)

Using gerunds of the appropriate auxiliary verbs, one can form gerund clauses that express perfect aspect and passive voice:

  • Being deceived can make someone feel angry. (passive)
  • Having read the book once before makes me more prepared. (perfect)
  • He is ashamed of having been gambling all night. (perfect progressive aspect)

For more detail on when it is appropriate to use a gerund, see Verb patterns with the gerund below, and also Uses of English verb forms: Gerund.

Distinction from other uses of the -ing form[edit]

Gerunds are distinguished grammatically from other uses of a verb's -ing form: the present participle (which is a non-finite verb form like the gerund, but is adjectival or adverbial in function), and the pure verbal noun or deverbal noun.

The distinction between gerund and present participle is illustrated in the following sentences:

  • John suggested asking Bill. (asking Bill is the object of the verb, i.e. a noun, so asking is a gerund)
  • I heard John asking Bill. (asking Bill is adjectival, describing John, so asking is a participle)

The distinction between the gerund and the pure verbal (deverbal) noun is that the gerund itself behaves as a verb, forming a verb phrase which is then used as a noun, whereas the pure noun does not in any way behave grammatically as a verb.[3] This is illustrated in the following examples:

  • I like playing football. (playing takes an object, so is a gerund)
  • Her playing of the Bach fugues was inspiring. (playing takes a prepositional phrase rather than an object; not a gerund)

For more details and examples of the distinctions introduced here, see -ing: uses.

Gerunds with a specified subject [edit]

A gerund cannot take a grammatical subject as a finite verb does. (The -ing verb form can take a subject in nominative absolute constructions such as The day being over, ..., but here it is a present participle rather than a gerund.) Normally the subject of the gerund is considered unspecified, or is understood to be the same as the subject of the main clause: in a sentence like "Meg likes eating apricots", the subject of eating is understood to be the same as the subject of the main clause, namely Meg – what Meg likes is a situation where she herself is eating apricots (see also raising verb). However in other cases it is necessary to specify explicitly who or what is to be understood as the subject of the gerund.

Many prescriptive grammarians prefer the subject of such a gerund to be expressed using the possessive form, since the gerund clause serves as a noun phrase. Hence:

  • We enjoyed their singing. (i.e. the singing that was done by them)
  • The cat's licking the cream was not generally appreciated. (i.e. the licking that was done by the cat)
  • We were delighted at Paul's being awarded the prize. (i.e. the awarding of the prize to Paul)

The above construction is common in formal English; however in informal English it is often more usual to use just the noun or noun phrase (in the objective case, in the case of personal pronouns) to indicate the subject, without any possessive marker.

  • We enjoyed them singing.
  • The cat licking the cream was not generally appreciated.
  • We were delighted at Paul being awarded the prize.

The above usage, though common, is criticized by some prescriptivists, since it apparently places two noun phrases (the agent and the gerund clause) together without any indication of their syntactic relation. It is compared with a superficially identical construction in which the -ing form is a present participle, and it is entirely appropriate for it to be preceded by a noun phrase, since the participial clause can be taken to qualify that noun phrase:

  • I saw the cat licking the cream. (i.e. I saw the cat, and the cat was licking the cream)

However others say that it is entirely acceptable to express the subject of the gerund with just the noun or the noun phrase in the nominative case or in the objective case, since the gerund is not a deverbal noun, but a verbal noun, i.e., a normal verb in a dependent noun clause.

The use of a non-possessive noun to precede a gerund is said to arise as a result of confusion with the above usage with a participle, and is thus sometimes called fused participle[4] or geriple.[5] This construction represents common informal usage with gerunds; however, if the prescriptive rule is followed, the difference between the two forms may be used to make a slight distinction in meaning:

  • The teacher's shouting startled the student. (shouting is a gerund, the shouting startled the student)
  • The teacher shouting startled the student. (shouting can be interpreted as a participle, qualifying the teacher; the teacher startled the student by shouting)
  • I don't like Jim's drinking wine. (I don't like the drinking)
  • I don't like Jim drinking wine. (I don't like Jim when he is drinking wine)

In some cases, particularly with a non-personal subject, the use of the possessive before a gerund may be considered redundant even in quite a formal register. For example, "There is no chance of the snow falling" (rather than the prescriptively correct "There is no chance of the snow's falling").

Verb patterns with the gerund[edit]

Verbs that are often followed by a gerund include admit, adore, anticipate, appreciate, avoid, carry on, consider, contemplate, delay, deny, describe, detest, dislike, enjoy, escape, fancy, feel, finish, give, hear, imagine, include, justify, listen to, mention, mind, miss, notice, observe, perceive, postpone, practice, quit, recall, report, resent, resume, risk, see, sense, sleep, stop, suggest, tolerate and watch. Additionally, prepositions are often followed by a gerund.

For example:

  • I will never quit smoking.
  • We postponed making any decision.
  • After two years of analyzing, we finally made a decision.
  • We heard whispering.
  • They denied having avoided me.
  • He talked me into coming to the party.
  • They frightened her out of voicing her opinion.

Verbs followed by a gerund or a to-infinitive[edit]

With little change in meaning[edit]

advise, recommend, forbid:

These are followed by a to-infinitive when there is an object as well, but by a gerund otherwise.

  • The police advised us not to enter the building, for a murder had occurred. (Us is the object of advised.)
  • The police advised against our entering the building. (Our is used for the gerund entering.)

consider, contemplate, recommend:

These verbs are followed by a to-infinitive only in the passive or with an object pronoun.

  • People consider her to be the best.She is considered to be the best.
  • I am considering sleeping over, if you do not mind.

begin, continue, start; hate, like, love, prefer:

With would, the verbs hate, like, love, and prefer are usually followed by the to-infinitive.

  • I would like to work there. (more usual than working)

When talking about sports, there is usually a difference in meaning between the infinitive and gerund (see the next section).

With a change in meaning[edit]

like, love, prefer:

In some contexts, following these verbs with a to-infinitive when the subject of the first verb is the subject of the second verb provides more clarity than a gerund.

  • I like to box. (I enjoy doing it myself.)
  • I like boxing. (Either I enjoy watching it, I enjoy doing it myself, or the idea of boxing is otherwise appealing.)
  • I do not like gambling, but I do like to gamble."

dread, hate, cannot bear:

These verbs are followed by a to-infinitive when talking subjunctively (often when using to think), but by a gerund when talking about general dislikes.

  • I dread / hate to think what she will do.
  • I dread / hate seeing him.
  • I cannot bear to see you suffer like this. (You are suffering now.)
  • I cannot bear being pushed around in crowds. (I never like that.)

forget, remember:

When these have meanings that are used to talk about the future from the given time, the to-infinitive is used, but when looking back in time, the gerund.

  • She forgot to tell me her plans. (She did not tell me, although she should have.)
  • She forgot telling me her plans. (She told me, but then forgot having done so.)
  • I remembered to go to work. (I remembered that I needed to go to work.)
  • I remembered going to work. (I remembered that I went to work.)

go on:

  • After winning the semi-finals, he went on to play in the finals. (He completed the semi-finals and later played in the finals.)
  • He went on giggling, not having noticed the teacher enter. (He continued doing so.)

mean:

  • I did not mean to scare you off. (I did not intend to scare you off.)
  • Taking a new job in the city meant leaving behind her familiar surroundings. (If she took the job, she would have to leave behind her familiar surroundings.)

regret:

  • We regret to inform you that you have failed your exam. (polite or formal form of apology)
  • I very much regret saying what I said. (I wish that I had not said that.)

try:

When a to-infinitive is used, the subject is shown to make an effort at something, attempt or endeavor to do something. If a gerund is used, the subject is shown to attempt to do something in testing to see what might happen.

  • Please try to remember to post my letter.
  • I have tried being stern, but to no avail.

stop, quit:

When the infinitive is used after 'stop' or 'quit', it means that the subject stops one activity and starts the activity indicated by the infinitive. If the gerund is used, it means that the subject stops the activity indicated by the gerund.

  • She stopped to smell the flowers.
  • She stopped smelling the flowers.

Or more concisely:

  • She stopped walking to smell the flowers.
  • He quit working there to travel abroad.

Borrowings of English gerunds in other languages[edit]

English verb forms ending in -ing are sometimes borrowed into other languages. In some cases they become pseudo-anglicisms, taking on new meanings or uses which are not found in English. For instance, camping means "campsite" in many languages, while parking often means a car park. For more details and examples, see -ing words in other languages.

In popular culture[edit]

In the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, Searle included a series of cartoons on the "private life of the gerund",[6] intended to parody the linguistic snobbery of Latin teachers' striving after strict grammatical correctness and the difficulty experienced by students in comprehending the construction.

Owen Johnson's "Lawrenceville Stories" feature a Latin teacher who constantly demands that his students determine whether a given word is a gerund or a gerundive.

In an episode of Dan Vs., "The Ninja", after Dan's milk carton exploded from the ninja's shuriken, a teenager said to Dan "Drinking problem much?" and Dan complained that the sentence had no verb, just a gerund.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Merriam-Websterdefinition". WordNet 1.7.1. Retrieved 2014-03-19. "A noun formed from a verb (such as the '-ing' form of an English verb when used as a noun)." 
  2. ^ F T Wood, 1961, "NESFIELD'S ENGLISH GRAMMAR, COMPOSITION AND USAGE, MACMILLAN AND COMPANY LTD., p 78 "
  3. ^ Re: Post Hey man, I gots ta know (Gerund versus gerundive), Phil White, Mon August 7, 2006 1:35 pm
  4. ^ H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1926
  5. ^ Penguin guide to plain English, Harry Blamires (Penguin Books Ltd., 2000) ISBN 978-0-14-051430-8 pp.144-146
  6. ^ "The Private Life of the Gerund". Molesworth. ; [1]

External links[edit]

  • Gerund at Wikibooks
  • The dictionary definition of gerund at Wiktionary