What is a gerund in English? Definition, functions and examples

A gerund might look like a fancy word to you if you are reading about it for the first time, but we use gerunds all the time. Going forward in the post, I will explain to you everything about them.

What is a gerund?

A gerund in English is an ING (progressive) form of a verb that works as a noun. It is basically a name of an action.

So, can we say all progressive verbs are gerund? No, we can’t. A verb that ends with ‘ing’ and functions as a noun is called a gerund.

Gerund examples
Different functions of gerunds

Examples of gerunds:

  • Dancing is my passion.
  • She loves cooking.
  • Jon’s favorite hobby is painting stones. 
  • I am petrified of hiking.
  • Your writing is better than mine.

Dancing, cooking, painting, hiking, and writing are the gerunds in the above examples. Notice that these words are not working as verbs in these examples; they are working as nouns.

In the first example (Dancing is my passion), dancing is working as the subject of the sentence. What is my passion? The gerund answers that question. It’s working as a noun: a name of an activity. Nobody is dancing in the sentence.

In the second example (She loves cooking), cooking is a gerund. Ask yourself, “Is anybody cooking here?” You know the action of cooking is not happening; we are just talking about it, using it as the object of the verbloves.’

In the third example (Jon’s favorite hobby is painting stones), painting is a gerund. Painting stones is the gerund phrase that’s working as a noun, renaming the subject ‘Jon’s favorite hobby.’ 

In the fourth example (I am petrified of hiking), hiking, the gerund, is working as the object of the preposition OF. 

In the fifth example (Your writing is better than mine), writing is the gerund that’s working as the object of the possessive adjective ‘your.’

By now, you must have understood what gerunds are. People that aren’t even aware of gerunds use them all the time; that’s how common gerunds are in English.

Functions of a gerund in English

A gerund works as a noun and can take the following positions in a sentence:

  1. The subject of a sentence
  2. The object of a verb
  3. The subject complement
  4. The object of a preposition
  5. The object of a possessive adjective

Let’s take some examples of a gerund working as the subject of a sentence.

Gerunds as the subject

  • Blogging is his hobby.
  • Smoking kills you.
  • Teaching is fun for me.
  • Running can be beneficial for your lungs.
  • Swimming is a great exercise for cardio.
  • Facing your fears makes you strong.
  • Cutting vegetables has never been easy for him.
  • Helping the needy gives me immense satisfaction.

Gerunds as the object of a verb

Let’s take some examples of gerunds as an object of a verb!

  • She loves dancing.
  • Most people hate waking up early.
  • The man denied stealing the money.
  • I don’t mind working alone.
  • Do you enjoy hiking?
  • My friends have stopped seeing me.
  • He admitted taking drugs.
  • I miss talking to my school friends.
  • I began teaching in 2014.

NOTE: Asking WHAT to the main verbs gets our gerund working as the object of the verb.

Here are some common verbs that are generally followed by a gerund: 

Love, enjoy, hate, deny, mind, admit, miss, abhor, dislike, appreciate, begin, justify, mention, etc.

Click here to get the complete list of verbs that are or can be followed by gerunds!

Gerunds as the subject complement

Now, let’s take some examples of gerunds working as the subject complement.

Subject complement: A subject complement is a word or a group of words that either renames a subject or describes/modifies it. A noun renames the subject, and an adjective modifies it. A gerund renames a subject as it works as a noun.

Examples:

  • My love is teaching. (my love = teaching)
  • Monu’s passion is blogging.
  • His biggest fear is public speaking.
  • What she wants to try badly is paragliding.
  • What I really love doing is helping others.
  • One of his fears is facing a huge crowd.
  • The easiest thing to do is sitting idle.

Gerunds as the object of a preposition

When gerunds function as the object of a preposition, they are placed right after them. Let’s take some examples of gerunds as an object of a preposition.

Examples:

  • Max is amazing at sketching.
  • You can’t talk about dancing in front of her.
  • She is scared of flying.
  • The guy finds pleasure in beating others.
  • My friends are unhappy about canceling the trip.
  • We got the deal done by giving him some cash.
  • His take on teaching coding to every student is fascinating.

Gerunds as the object of a possessive adjective

Possessive adjectives: my, your, his, her, its, their, our

  • All the teachers hate my writing.
  • His dancing is top-notch.
  • She is crazy about my teaching.
  • How can they dislike your singing!
  • Her thinking is out of the box.

Gerund vs Gerund phrases

How is a gerund different from a gerund phrase? A gerund phrase is more detailed than a gerund. It has an object of the gerund or a modifier or both. Let me show some examples of gerunds and gerund phrases!

  • Teaching is my passion. (gerund)
  • Teaching English is my passion. (gerund phrase)
  • She loves cooking. (gerund)
  • She loves cooking Italian food for me. (gerund phrase)
  • Jon’s favorite hobby is painting stones. 
    (Here, painting is the gerund, and painting stones is the gerund phrase.)
  • I am petrified of hiking. (gerund)
  • I am petrified of hiking in the mountains. (gerund phrase)

Actions verbs vs gerunds

How to know if a verb ending with ‘ing‘ is working as a verb or a noun?

A simple way to find out if a verb ending with ‘ing’ is working as a noun or a verb is to replace it with a noun or a pronoun. If it is possible to do that, it is a gerund, if not, it is a verb. Let me show you some examples!

  • Smoking kills you.

Let’s find out if smoking is working as a verb or a gerund (noun). Let’s try to use a noun or a pronoun in place of it.

  • Alcohol kills you.
  • It kills you.

Both these sentences make sense. So, it is clear that smoking is a gerund. Let’s take one more example!

  • I am eating bananas.

Let’s replace eating with a noun or a pronoun.

  • I am Max bananas.
  • I am it bananas.

Do these sentences make any sense? No. So, it’s clear that eating is an action verb, not a gerund.

Don’t confuse gerunds with participles!

Both participles and gerunds are verb forms that end with ‘ing’. But participles work as adjectives while gerunds work as nouns.

A participle, present or past, can appear at three different positions:

  1. Just before the noun it modifies.
  2. Just after the noun it modifies.
  3. A little far away on the right from the modifier.

It is easy to find if it is a participle when it comes just before and after the noun it modifies. Let me show you how!

  • Look at that burning train.
    (A train that is burning)

The noun next to it (train) and a demonstrative pronoun before it make it clear that burning is a present participle adjective and is modifying the noun train. A participle can have modifiers just before it, but a gerund can’t.

  • The man crying in the corner needs some help.
    (The man who is crying in the corner)

What/who are we talking about? Crying or the man who is crying? The simple subject is “man.” Crying is modifying it.

  • The match was exciting.

Exciting is not a gerund here. It is an adjective.

Hope my smart brains have mastered gerunds today. Feel feel to ask your doubts and share the post with the ones that need it. I will see you guys in the next class.

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