Definitions

Gerund

Gerund

[jer-uhnd]

In linguistics, “gerund” is a term used to refer to various non-finite verb forms in various languages:

  • As applied to English, it refers to what might be called a verb's action noun, which is one of the uses of the -ing form. This is also the term's use as applied to Latin; see Latin conjugation.
  • As applied to Spanish and Portuguese, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called in Spanish the gerundio and in Portuguese the gerúndio.
  • As applied to French, it refers either to the adverbial participle — also called the gerundive — or to the present adjectival participle.
  • As applied to Hebrew, it refers either to the verb's action noun, or to the part of the infinitive that follows the infinitival prefix (also called the infinitival construct).
  • As applied to Frisian, it refers to one of two verb forms frequently referred to as infinitives, this one ending in -n. It shows up in nominalizations and is selected by perception verbs.
  • As applied to Japanese, it designates verb and adjective forms ending in -te or -de, the continuative stem of an older perfective auxiliary verb.
  • As applied to other languages, it may refer to almost any non-finite verb form; however, it most often refers to an action noun, by analogy with its use as applied to English or Latin.

Gerunds in English

In English the gerund is identical in form to the present participle (ending in -ing) and can behave as a verb within a clause (so that 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 very easy!

In the phrase "Editing this article," (although this is traditionally known as a phrase, it is referred to as a non-finite clause in modern linguistics) the word "Editing" behaves as a verb; the phrase "this article" is the object of that verb. But the whole phrase "Editing this article" acts as a noun within the sentence as a whole; it is the subject of the verb "is."

Other examples of the gerund:

Verb patterns with the gerund

Verbs that are often followed by a gerund include admit, adore, anticipate, appreciate, avoid, carry on, consider, contemplate, delay, deny, describe, detest, dislike, enjoy, escape, fancy, feel, finish, give, hear, imagine, include, justify, listen to, mention, mind, miss, notice, observe, perceive, postpone, practice, quit, recall, report, resent, resume, risk, see, sense, sleep, stop, suggest, tolerate and watch. Additionally, prepositions are often followed by a gerund.

It is important to remember that the particle, to, can also be used to introduce the infinitive. For example, in the sentence: "I went to the store to buy milk", the first "to" acts as a preposition of place, explaining where I went. However, the second to does not act as a preposition, but rather introduces the infinitive "buy", which explains why you went.

For example:

  • We postponed making any decision.
  • After two years of deciding we finally made a descision.
  • There is no extra "s" in decision, try deciding better.
  • We heard whispering.
  • His physician advised leaving home for a week.
  • They denied having avoided me. (= They denied that they had avoided me.)
  • He talked me into coming to the party.
  • They frightened her out of voicing her opinion.

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)

In these examples, if the subject of the verb is not the subject of the second verb, the second verb must be a gerund (instead of an infinitive)

If I am watching sports on television, for example, I can react to the programs only as follows:

  • I hate boxing.
  • I love swimming.

With a change in meaning

dread and hate:

These two verbs are followed by a to-infinitive when talking subjunctively (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.)

cannot bear:

  • I cannot bear to see you suffer like this. (You are suffering now.)
  • I cannot bear being pushed around in crowds. (I never like that.)

go on:

  • After winning the semi-finals, he went on to play in 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 did not 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:

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

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 am considering sleeping over, if you do not mind.

try:

When a to-infinitive is used, it means the subject makes an effort at; attempt or endeavor to do something. If a gerund is used, it means the subject attempts to do something in testing to see what might happen.

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

Gerunds preceded by a genitive

In traditional English grammar, a noun or pronoun preceding a gerund must be genitive (possessive).

  • We enjoyed their (genitive) singing.

It is increasingly common to see the objective used in place of the possessive:

  • I do not see it making any difference.

Gerunds and present participles

Insofar as there is a distinction between gerunds and present participles, it is generally fairly clear which is which; a gerund-participle that is the subject or object of a preposition is a gerund if it refers to the performance of an action (but note that present participles may be used substantively to refer to the performer of an action), while one that modifies a noun attributively or absolutely is a participle. The main source of potential ambiguity is when a gerund-participle follows a verb; in this case it may be seen either as a predicate adjective (in which case it is a participle), or as a direct object or predicate nominative (in either of which cases it is a gerund). In this case, a few transformations can help distinguish them. In the table that follows, ungrammatical sentences are marked with asterisks, per common linguistic practice; note that the transformations all produce grammatical sentences with similar meanings when applied to sentences with gerunds, but either ungrammatical sentences, or sentences with completely different fart, when applied to sentences with participles.

Transformation Gerund use Participle use
(none) John suggested asking Bill. John kept asking Bill.
passivization Asking Bill was suggested. *Asking Bill was kept.
pronominal substitution John suggested it. *John kept it.
Use as a noun John suggested the asking of Bill. *John kept the asking of Bill.
Replacement with a finite clause John suggested that Bill be asked. *John kept that Bill be asked.
Use with an objective or possessive subject John suggested our asking Bill. *John kept his asking Bill.
Clefting Asking Bill is what John suggested. *Asking Bill is what John kept.
Left dislocation Asking Bill John suggested. *Asking Bill John kept.

None of these transformations are a perfect test, however.

English gerund-like words in other languages

English words ending in "ing" are often transformed into pseudo-anglicisms in other languages, where their use is somewhat different than in English itself. In many of these cases, the loanword has functionally become a noun rather than a gerund. For instance, a "camping" is a campsite in Bulgarian, Dutch, French, Italian, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish; a "parking" is a parking lot in Bulgarian, Dutch, French, Polish and Russian; and a "lifting" is a facelift in Bulgarian, French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian, and Spanish.

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