Gerund Definition and Examples

Let's begin this enlightening journey into English grammar terminology with a gerund definition and examples.

A gerund is a verb form that ends in -ing and functions as a noun in a sentence.

In running shoes, "running" is an activity—you're doing something. So, you'd think "running" is a verb, but in this case, it serves as a noun, describing a type of shoe (a shoe for running).

Forming Gerunds

The formation of gerunds is a straightforward process.

Take the base form of any verb and add "-ing" to the end. For instance, the verb "read" turns into reading, "write" to writing, "dance" to dancing, and "run" to running—these are all gerunds.

The beauty of the gerund is in the many roles it can play within a sentence. Here are few examples:

  • As a subject: "Running is her favourite activity."
  • As a direct object: "She loves running."
  • As a subject complement: "Her favourite exercise is running."

One important aspect to remember about gerunds is that they retain their verb-like properties even when functioning as nouns. So, they can take direct objects if they’re transitive, or be modified with adverbs.

For example, in the sentence, 'I love reading mystery novels,' 'reading' is the gerund, and it takes the direct object, 'mystery novels.' In the case of 'I miss eating out occasionally,' 'eating' is the gerund modified by the adverb 'occasionally.'

Function of Gerunds

So gerunds can appear in various parts of a sentence and can fill several roles. We'll now look at some of these functions of gerunds in more detail.

Gerund as Subject

A gerund can act as the subject of a sentence: 'Running is her hobby.' Here, the gerund 'running' is the subject of the sentence.

Take a look at this sentence: 'Swimming is good for health'. 'Swimming' is a gerund. It takes the place of a noun and is the subject of the sentence.

These are more examples (the verb is in bold):

  • Dancing is a fantastic way to express oneself through movement.
  • Reading novels allows you to explore different worlds and perspectives.
  • Painting requires a great deal of creativity and skill.
  • Singing in the shower is a common morning ritual for many people.
  • Hiking in the wilderness offers a chance to connect with nature.

Gerund as Subject Complement

It can also be a subject complement. 'His favourite activity is reading'. In this case, the gerund 'reading' is the complement to the subject 'His favourite activity...'.

  • Her favourite activity is dancing.
  • One of his skills was cooking gourmet meals.
  • My main goal became learning to play the piano.
  • The secret to success is persevering through challenges.
  • His passion in life is helping others in need.

Gerund as Direct Object

Gerunds can also be direct objects: 'I enjoy painting.' Here, 'painting' is the direct object of the sentence.

  • She enjoys reading books in her free time.
  • They appreciate your helping them during the project.
  • He dislikes washing the dishes after dinner.
  • I can't stand listening to that annoying noise.
  • The coach encouraged practicing every day to improve their skills.

It's worth mentioning at this point that gerunds are commonly used after certain verbs, including those already cited above and others such as:

  • hate
  • love
  • despise
  • don't mind
  • miss
  • mind
  • suggest
  • keep
  • avoid
  • finish
  • forget
  • discuss
  • advise
  • prefer
  • recommend

Gerund as Object of a Preposition

Now, moving on to another vital function of gerunds, these unassuming words can also perform the function of an object of a preposition.

For instance, in the sentence, "We decided on painting the kitchen yellow", painting is the gerund that acts as the object of the preposition "on."

  • She is interested in learning a new language.
  • They are fond of hiking in the mountains.
  • He succeeded by working hard and staying focused.
  • I am looking forward to traveling to Europe next summer.
  • They apologised for arriving late to the party.

Many of these phases are typically those involving a verb plus proposition.

  • look forward to meeting...
  • object to you taking...
  • be used to having...

Appositive Gerunds

Going even deeper into the gerund pond, we encounter 'Appositive Gerunds.'

An appositive renames a noun in the same sentence or gives more information about a noun (which comes just before the gerund.

A gerund can serve this function as seen in the example, "His hobby, running, is very beneficial for his health." Here, "running" is the appositive gerund that gives additional information about his hobby.

In the following examples you'll see that the gerund (or gerund phrase) is giving more information about the noun, in bold.

  • His passion, running, motivates him to stay active. 
  • Her favorite hobby, painting landscapes, keeps her busy on weekends. 
  • My greatest pleasure, watching the sunset over the ocean, is truly relaxing. 
  • His expertise, cooking gourmet meals for large gatherings, is well-known in our community. 
  • Our primary focus, reducing carbon emissions through sustainable practices, guides our company's mission.

Gerund Phrases

Gerunds aren't just standalone stars, they can be part of a team as well. We call these 'Gerund Phrases', as mentioned above.

In "Eating spicy food often leads to heartburn," 'Eating spicy food' is a gerund phrase, with 'eating' being the gerund and 'spicy food' being the direct object of the gerund.

  • Subject Gerund Phrase: Learning to code is essential in today's job market. 
  • Direct Object Gerund Phrase: She enjoys reading mystery novels during her free time. 
  • Subject Complement Gerund Phrase: His favourite activity is swimming in the ocean
  • Object of Preposition Gerund Phrase: They are passionate about volunteering for charitable organisations
  • Appositive Gerund Phrase: Her main goal, improving her public speaking skills, requires dedicated practice. 

In some of the examples we looked at in the other sections, though I highlighted only the gerund, you'll see that many are actually gerund phrases.

Present Participle or Gerund?

A vital point to remember is not to confuse gerunds with present participles. Although both forms end in '-ing,' their usage is different.

A present participle is used as part of the continuous form of a verb, or as an adjective.

For example, in 'She is dancing,' 'dancing' is a present participle, not a gerund, as 'is dancing' is the present continuous tense being used to show what she is doing at the moment.

Or as an adjective: It was an exciting movie.

To Sum Up

The understanding and usage of gerunds is fundamental in mastering English grammar. They turn verbs into nouns, allowing more nuanced expression.

Remember, they can be subjects, objects, or complements, and are often used after prepositions and certain verb combinations. Another type not discussed here is possessive gerunds.

Practicing the use of gerunds can elevate your language skills and expand your linguistic repertoire. So, keep exploring, keep practicing, and keep learning.

Happy studying!

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