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Gerunds

When a verb ends in -ing, it may be a present participle or it may be a gerund. It is important to understand that they are not the same.

When we use a verb in -ing form more like a verb or an adjective, it is usually a present participle:

When we use a verb in -ing form more like a noun, it is usually a gerund:

In this lesson, we look at how we use gerunds, followed by a quiz to check your understanding.

Gerunds are sometimes called "verbal nouns". It should also be noted that many grammarians do not like to use the term "gerund" because there is sometimes no clear difference between a gerund and a present participle.

Gerund as Subject, Object or Complement

Try to think of a gerund as a noun in verb form.

Like nouns, gerunds can be the subject, object or complement of a sentence:

But, like verbs, a gerund can also have an object itself. In this case, the whole expression (gerund + object) can be the subject, object or complement of the sentence.

Like nouns, we can use gerunds with adjectives (including articles and other determiners):

When we use a gerund with an article, it does not usually take a direct object:

Do you see the difference in the following two sentences? In one, "reading" is a gerund (noun). In the other, "reading" is a present participle (verb).
  1. My favourite occupation is reading.
  2. My favourite niece is reading.
Explanation

In #1, "reading" is a gerund (like a noun):

  main verb complement
My favourite occupation is reading.
My favourite occupation is football.

In #2, "reading" is a present participle (verb):

  auxiliary verb main verb
My favourite niece is reading.
My favourite niece has finished.

Gerund after Preposition

Here is a good rule. It has no exceptions:

Prepositions are always followed by a noun-phrase.

If we want to use a verb after a preposition, it must be a gerund (which functions as a noun). It is impossible to use an infinitive after a preposition. So, for example, we say:

Notice that you could replace all the above gerunds with "real" nouns:

The above rule has no exceptions! So in the following sentences why is to followed by "driving" in #1 and by "drive" in #2?
  1. I am used to driving on the left.
  2. I used to drive on the left.
Answer

In #1 to is a preposition followed by a gerund or noun, as per the rule above:

  • I am used to driving on the left.
  • I am used to animals.
In #2 to is not a preposition. It is part of the to-infinitive:
  • I used to drive on the left
  • I used to smoke.

Gerund after Certain Verbs

We sometimes use one verb after another verb. Often the second verb is in the to-infinitive form, for example:

But sometimes the second verb must be in gerund form, for example:

This depends on the first verb. Here is a list of verbs that are usually followed by a verb in gerund form:

Look at these examples:

Some verbs can be followed by the gerund form or the to-infinitive form without a big change in meaning: begin, continue, hate, intend, like, love, prefer, propose, start
  • I like to play tennis. / I like playing tennis.
  • It started to rain. / It started raining.

Gerund in Passive Sense

We often use a gerund after the verbs need, require and want.

In this case, the gerund has a passive sense.

Look at these example sentences. Notice that this construction can be in any tense:

Note that the expression "something wants doing" is used more in British English than in American English.