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Gerund

From Academic Kids

In linguistics, a gerund is a kind of verbal noun. It behaves as a verb within a clause (so that, for example, it may be modified by an adverb or have an object), but the clause as a whole (sometimes consisting only of one word, the gerund) acts as a noun within the larger sentence. For example

Editing this article is easy.

Within the clause "Editing this article," the word "Editing" behaves as a verb; in particular the phrase "this article" is the object of that verb. But the whole clause "Editing this article" acts as a noun phrase within the sentence as a whole; it is the subject of the verb "is".

In English, gerunds are formed by adding -ing to the end of a verb (but not all words formed that way are gerunds; speaking is either a gerund or a present participle depending on how it is used). It closely resembles the present participle in form, but behaves differently in syntax.

Examples of the gerund:

Properly speaking, the English gerund only occurs in the present tense. The gerund cannot occur in any other tenses. All other verbal nouns in English are expressed with the infinitive. For example, "to have loved and lost is better than not to have loved at all."

Contents

Verb patterns with the gerund

Verbs which are normally followed by the gerund include: admit, adore, anticipate, can't stand, carry on, contemplate, deny, describe, detest, dislike, fancy, finish, give up, keep, keep on, justify, mention, mind, miss, postpone, quit, recall, report, resent, resume, risk, suggest, tolerate.

For example:

  • We postponed making any decision.
  • I simply adore reading what you write.
  • I detest going to the cinema.
  • His physician advised leaving home for a week.
  • They denied having avoided me. (= They denied that they had avoided me.)

Verbs followed by a gerund or a to-infinitive

With little change in meaning

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

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

For example:

  • I hate to work. or I hate working.
  • I love to sleep. or I love sleeping.
  • I would like to work there. (more usual than working)

With a change in meaning

dread and hate:

These two verbs are followed by a to-infinitive when talking hypothetically (usually 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.

forget and remember:

When these have meanings which 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 our plans. (She did not tell me, though she should have.)
  • She forgot telling me our 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, and so I did.)
  • I remembered going to work. (I remembered the action of previously going to work.)

can't bear:

  • I can't bear to see you suffer like this. (You are suffering now.)
  • I can't bear being pushed round in crowds. (I never like that.)

go on:

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

mean:

  • I didn't mean to scare you off!
  • Her having got a new job in the city meant leaving behind her familiar surroundings.

advise, recommend and forbid:

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

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

regret:

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

consider, contemplate and 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'm considering sleeping over, if you don't mind.

try:

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

Verbs followed by a gerund or a bare infinitive

Verbs of observation and perception can be followed by either the gerund or the bare infinitive. A bare infinitive implies completion, a gerund progression of an action. These verbs include: feel, hear, listen to, notice, observe, perceive, see, sense, watch.

Examples:

  • I heard the bell ring / ringing.
  • We carefully watched them perform, then applauded.
  • We were carefully watching their performing, for it was captivating.

Gerunds followed by an object or a genitive

A gerund can be used in combination with either an object or a genitive (possessive). The latter is considered more formal, and the only option when an adjective precedes the gerund, but is more common when the second verb applies to a person rather than an object.

  • We enjoyed them (object pronoun) / their (genitive) singing.
  • I greatly appreciate you / your doing this for me.
  • I greatly appreciate your kind doing this for me. (an object pronoun is not possible here)

Some differences between gerunds and the present participle

The term "gerund" is sometimes used incorrectly to mean any word ending with "ing". For example:

  • Jane was swimming in the sea. (Here "swimming" is a participle verb)

Compare:

  • John enjoys eating a good meal. ("eating" is a gerund)
  • John is eating a good meal. ("eating" is a participle verb)

Passivisation

Sentences with a present participle cannot be rendered in the passive form, whereas sentences with gerundive phrases as their object can:

  • John suggested asking Bill. (Active sentence with a gerundive phrase as the object of suggested.)
  • Asking Bill was suggested by John. (The sentence has been rendered in the passive voice, though a little awkwardly.)
  • John kept asking Bill. (Active sentence with a participle verb phrase.)
  • * Asking Bill was kept by John. (The attempt to render the sentence in the passive voice fails.)

Pronominal substitution

The pronoun it can be substituted for a gerundive phrase, but not for a participle verb phrase:

  • John disliked discussing his private life — in fact he hated it.
  • John kept discussing his daughter — he kept it all summer. (Here, the pronoun it cannot refer to the act of discussing John's daughter.)

Noun phrase paraphrases

Sometimes (though not frequently) a gerundive phrase can be paraphrased with a noun phrase:

  • John enjoys consuming fish.
  • John enjoys the consumption of fish.

This is never possible in the case of participle verbs:

  • John keeps consuming fish. ("consuming" is a participle verb.)
  • John keeps the consumption of fish. (The attempt to replace the participle verb phrase with a "-ion" noun phrase fails.)

Preceding genitive phrases

Gerundive phrases can be preceded by genitive phrases, whereas participle verb phrases cannot:

  • Samantha discussed her visiting James.
  • Samantha kept her visiting James.

Clefting

Gerundive phrases can undergo clefting, whereas participle verb phrases cannot:

  • It was taking drugs that the teacher warned against.
  • It was taking drugs that the teacher kept. (Intended to mean that the teacher kept taking drugs.)

Topicalisation

Gerundive phrases can be topicalised (i.e. moved to the front of a sentence) whereas participle verb phrases cannot:

  • Susan thinks watching golf is tedious. (Sentence containing a gerundive phrase which has not been topicalised.)
  • Watching golf Susan thinks is tedious. (The same sentence with the gerundive phrase topicalised.)
  • The old man kept discussing golf. (Sentence containing a participle verb phrase which has not been topicalised.)
  • Discussing golf, the old man kept. (The attempt to topicalise the participle verb phrase fails.)

See also

es:gerundio pl:Gerund

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