A gerund is a verb form ending in -ing that acts as a noun. You can form a gerund from any verb by adding -ing to it: swimming (swim + -ing), running, singing, dreaming, dancing, thinking, talking.
A verb as we know describes an action, an occurrence, or a state of being, while a noun is the name given to something—for example, a hobby. We use gerunds to speak of hobbies, interests, behaviors, and activities.
- Cycling is a great form of exercise.
- Maya likes reading before bed.
- She spends her weekends photographing old motels.
- Lulu loves singing in the shower.
Gerunds are versatile words that exhibit both noun- and verb-like qualities: everything a noun can do, a gerund can as well, all while being a verb form.
How are gerunds used?
A gerund can be the subject of a sentence, thus functioning as a noun. (A subject is whom or what the sentence is about.)
- Swimming gives all your main muscle groups a good workout.
The gerund “swimming” is the subject.
The subject can also be a gerund phrase (a gerund with other words that describe the action or state expressed by the gerund).
- Running from tigers is hard to do on bad ankles.
The gerund phrase “running from tigers” is the subject.
- Watching TV is all she can do after a long day at work.
A gerund or gerund phrase can also simply describe the subject, thus acting as a.
- Her favorite form of exercise is swimming.
The gerund swimming describes the subject (tells you what her favorite form of exercise is).
- Seeing is believing.
- His new nocturnal pastime is baking chicken cupcakes for dogs.
And like a noun, a gerund (or gerund phrase) can also be theof a verb.
- Rita enjoys swimming in the ocean.
verb = enjoys; object = swimming
- Maya likes watching TV at the end of the day.
- Lulu hates running in the rain.
A gerund can even be the object of a preposition (words like of, on, at, in, about), again acting as a noun.
- What matters is a desire for learning.
preposition = for; object = learning
- Rita dreams of swimming to Fiji.
- Maya is writing a book on traveling the world by bus.
Adjectives with gerunds
Adjectives can be used to describe gerunds, just like they describe nouns.
- I have never heard such beautiful singing.
The adjective beautiful describes the gerund singing.
- We appreciated his careful driving.
- Tumkin’s artistic rendering of a simple logo has transformed our website.
- This book is about the ghastly haunting of a local library by ghosts of unpublished writers.
- Farley’s tuneless humming was getting on everybody’s nerves.
Adverbs with gerunds
A gerund, after all a verb form, retains some of its verb-like qualities. Unlike a noun, a gerund can be modified by adverbs. A regular noun is described using an adjective (a happy man) rather than an adverb (a
happily man). But gerunds can take adverbs (sadly, madly, loudly, almost, never), just like verbs.
- Driving carefully will save you.
- Those were the days when writing neatly was valued above all else.
- Willingly submitting to an investigation can only help your case.
- I would suggest quickly selling your house now that you have found a buyer.
- Never being proved wrong doesn’t mean you’re right.
Gerunds in compound nouns
Interestingly, gerunds can form(two or more words making up a single noun), an ability that further underscores their “nounishness.”
- When Anita discovered she was pregnant, she bought herself seventeen books on child-rearing.
The noun child combines with the gerund rearing to form a compound noun.
- Doesn’t Poco’s argument sound like so much hair-splitting?
- Farley, your play-acting isn’t fooling anyone!
- Beekeeping can be a rewarding hobby—for you and for the bees.
- A successful business requires good bookkeeping.
Gerunds in compound verbs
Gerunds, which by now we know have superpowers, can even give birth to.
- Nesbit loves to window-shop on his way to work.
Window plus the gerund shopping made window-shopping. Through usage, this then turned into the compound verb window-shop.
- I have to babysit my niece this evening.
from baby + sitting
- Tumkin finds it reassuring that he is being headhunted by three companies at once.
from head + hunting
Gerunds vs. -ing nouns
Not all nouns that end in -ing are gerunds—only those that are verb forms and retain their verb-like qualities. Only one of the following sentences has a gerund.
- Noun: The building I live in is a hundred years old.
- Gerund: Building the bridge cost numerous lives.
In the first example, building is simply a noun that has no verbal qualities—no action is being hinted at. In the second sentence, the verb build combines with ‑ing to give us a gerund. Here are more such words.
- Noun: Farley bought a hideous painting at the auction yesterday.
Gerund: Painting for a living doesn’t always pay.
- Noun: Are you going to hang a stocking for Santa tonight?
Gerund: One of the tasks Rita must complete today is stocking the shelves.
- Noun: You don’t have to hide your feelings.
Gerund: Feeling blue on Monday is par for the course.
Gerund vs. present participle
The form of a gerund is the same as that of theof any verb: verb + -ing. Although the gerund and present participle of a verb look identical, they function differently in sentences. A gerund functions as a noun, while the present participle serves as the of a verb and helps form verb tenses.
- Gerund: Jogging hurts my ankles.
Present participle: She was jogging in the park when I ran into her.
Present participle: She had been jogging for two hours when her feet started to hurt.
- Gerund: Rita likes singing in the shower.
Present participle: She was singing in the shower when the phone rang.
The participle can also act as an adjective.
- Present participle: Have you ever met a talking cat?
The participle talking describes the noun cat, thus acting as an adjective.