What Is a Gerund and Why Care?



What is a gerund and why do you need to know? Maybe it would be better to answer the second part of the question first so that you have some motivation to identify gerunds. If you are able to pick the gerund(s) out in your sentence, you will avoid a grammar gaffe that often goes unnoticed even by seasoned editors. Is your curiosity at least somewhat piqued?

Gerunds, also called verbal nouns, are formed when verbs have -ing added to them and are used as nouns.

Examples:
Walking is great exercise.
Hiking up that steep mountain seems impossible.
Talking more about this will not change my mind.

Note that in each of the examples above, the -ing word—the gerund—acted as the subject of the sentence.

Gerunds, like other nouns, may also act as direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of the preposition.

Examples:
We like talking on the phone every night. (direct object)
I give him credit for talking. (object of the preposition for)

It is helpful to recognize gerunds because if a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund, it is usually best to use the possessive form of that noun or pronoun.

Correct: My running ahead bothered him.
Incorrect: Me running ahead bothered him.

Correct: Their separating does not mean they won’t continue to be good parents to their three children.
Incorrect: Them separating does not mean they won’t continue to be good parents to their three children.

Examples:
Alex’s skating was a joy to behold.
Ben’s walking improved once his ankle healed.
The girl’s dancing won her a trip to Hawaii.

 

Pop Quiz

Identify the gerund in each sentence. If there is a noun or pronoun preceding it, make the noun or pronoun possessive.

1. Working efficiently is required in the restaurant business.
2. She won three gold medals for swimming.
3. The devaluing of the dollar continued throughout the summer.
4. Don’t criticize me trying to get his attention.
5. I’d like to know Alicia thinking about the issue.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Working efficiently is required in the restaurant business.
2. She won three gold medals for swimming.
3. The devaluing of the dollar continued throughout the summer.
4. Don’t criticize my trying to get his attention.
5. I’d like to know Alicia’s thinking about the issue.

Posted on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, at 11:00 pm

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7 Comments on What Is a Gerund and Why Care?

7 responses to “What Is a Gerund and Why Care?”

  1. Noah Bodie says:

    With the old brake pads, the vehicle was heard gerunding to a stop.

  2. Richard Frost says:

    It astounds me that very few Americans, including the most literate, best educated, and most articulate, use the possessive noun or pronoun before a gerund, especially when speaking. That mistake is so common that I had begun to think that the rule had changed. In fact, I think I have only heard it said correctly once in the past six months.

  3. Emanuel says:

    Interesting. I would also like to have some analysis about the difference between gerunds preceded by preposition for and infinitive verbs preceded by To. Thanks in advance.

    • Perhaps you are referring to sentences such as:
      For swimming, you should take lessons. (prepositional phrase with gerund as an object)
      To swim, you should take lessons. (infinitive phrase)

      Can you clarify what sort of analysis you are looking for?

  4. Harvey Wachtel says:

    Re the case of the subject of a present participle used as a non-finite verb: You say the subject must be possessive rather than objective and give the example:
    Correct: My running ahead bothered him.
    Incorrect: Me running ahead bothered him.

    There’s no such rule. Both “He doesn’t like me running ahead of him” and “he doesn’t like my running ahead of him” are correct, with the objective “me” probably the more natural. The rule that does govern your example is that a sentence should not begin with an objective-case pronoun [probably because it muddles the major sentence structure ]. Thus the choice of cases for the subject of an -ing phrase is eliminated if the phrase comes at the beginning of the sentence.

    This rule has an even stranger effect when the non-finite verb form is an infinitive rather than a present participle because infinitives can take ONLY objective-case subjects. So what do we do if we want to start a sentence with an infinitive phrase that has a subject? “For him to do that would be a mistake.” [equivalent to “His doing that would be a mistake.”] Where’d that “for” come from? Can’t start a sentence with “him,” but the workarounds are different for -ing verbs and infinitives.

    • “My running ahead” is the correct phrasing (and “me running ahead” the incorrect) because it is not “me” who annoys, but rather the act (“my” act) of running ahead.

      In the sentence “For him to do that would be a mistake,” the sentence subject is “for him to do that,” a prepositional phrase. The simple predicate is “would be” (a modal verb phrase). “Mistake” is a predicate adjective modifying the sentence subject after the linking verb “to be.”

      Using a prepositional phrase as a sentence subject is not common, but it can sometimes be found in expressions such as “After eight o’clock is probably the best time to call.”

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