Gerund | Definition, Form & Examples

A gerund is a word like “swimming” in the sentence “I have always enjoyed swimming.” The term refers to the “-ing” form of a verb when it functions as a noun.

A gerund usually refers in a general way to the activity represented by the verb it’s derived from. Above, “swimming” means the activity of swimming in general, not a specific instance of swimming.

Gerunds are different from other nouns in that they can be modified by adverbials (e.g., “I enjoy swimming in the sea”) and can take direct objects (e.g., “playing my guitar always relaxes me”).

Examples: Gerunds
Cycling is a fun activity, a convenient mode of transport, and a good form of exercise.

I’m in the habit of writing every day.

Meditating helps Shirley to clear her mind.

How are gerunds used in sentences?

A gerund is used in the same way as other types of nouns.

That means it can serve as the subject of a sentence, followed by a verb; as a direct object (thing directly acted on by a verb) or indirect object (thing that receives the direct object); or as a subject complement (joined to the subject by a linking verb).

Roles played by gerunds in sentences

Gerund phrase

A gerund phrase is the whole phrase headed by a gerund, including anything that modifies it. A gerund phrase can consist of the gerund on its own or in combination with one or more adverbials, a direct object, an indirect object, or all of the above. It’s a type of noun phrase.

Examples: Gerund phrases
Reading up on a prospective employer before applying for the job is always a good idea.

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Present participle vs. gerund

Gerunds are always identical to present participles, which are also formed by adding “-ing” to the infinitive form of a verb. The difference concerns the role the words play in sentences:

  • Gerunds are used as nouns.
  • Present participles are used as adjectives and to form the continuous verb tenses.
Examples: Present participle vs. gerund
Crying is a cathartic way to release negative emotions.

I had to help a crying girl who had lost her mother. She had been crying for a little while.

Gerund form

The gerund form of a verb, like the present participle, is formed by adding “-ing” to the infinitive form of the verb. For example, the infinitive “fly” creates the gerund “flying.”

Some gerunds are formed slightly differently. For example, “lie” becomes “lying,” replacing “ie” with “y”; “run” becomes “running,” doubling the “n.” If you’re unsure how to spell a particular gerund, check a dictionary.

Note
The gerund forms of two-syllable words that end in “l” are spelled differently in UK and US English:

  • In UK English, they are typically formed by doubling the “l” and adding “-ing” (e.g., “model” becomes “modelling”).
  • In US English, the “l” is doubled only when the final syllable is stressed (e.g., “control” becomes “controlling,” but “model” becomes “modeling”).

Gerunds and infinitives

Gerunds are often used interchangeably with the “to” infinitive form of a verb (e.g., “I like singing”/“I like to sing”). However, they are not always interchangeable and, where both can be used, they often differ in tone and meaning.

The use of a “to” infinitive as a subject is possible but tends to sound unnatural. It’s normally better to use a gerund.

  • To bake is my favorite hobby.
  • Baking is my favorite hobby.

    When a “to” infinitive acts as an adjective, it can’t be replaced with a gerund.

    • Are there any games to play?
    • Are there any games playing?

      Some transitive verbs (such as “plan,” “decide,” and “forget”) can be followed by a “to” infinitive but not a gerund. These verbs tend to connote something potential or that hasn’t happened yet.

      • I forgot paying my gas bill.
      • I forgot to pay my gas bill.

        A “to” infinitive normally can’t be preceded by another preposition, whereas a gerund can.

        • Special equipment and training are needed for to climb.
        • Special equipment and training are needed for climbing.

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          Should I use a possessive before a gerund?

          Language authorities usually argue that a sentence like “If me being here bothers you, I’ll leave” is incorrect. The problem is the use of the object pronoun “me” before the gerund “being.” The correct phrasing uses a possessive determiner: “my being here.”

          The wrongness of the first phrasing is obvious if you use a different noun, “presence,” in place of the gerund: “If me presence bothers you” doesn’t sound right at all. The possessive “my” is clearly needed.

          The possessive in this context is nevertheless considered quite formal and has largely been replaced with the object pronoun in informal conversation. But we recommend using a possessive noun or determiner in formal contexts such as academic writing.

          Examples: Possessive before a gerund
          I think that he was offended by your asking the question.

          Mark’s coming home late worried his parents.

          Note
          You don’t need to use a possessive when the following word is a present participle rather than a gerund. For example, in the sentence “The woman staring at me finally spoke,” “staring” is a present participle acting as an adjective to describe the noun “woman.”

          It would be illogical to say “the woman’s staring” in this context, because it was obviously the woman who spoke, not her action of staring.

          Exception: “-ing” words as verbal nouns

          “-ing” words that are used as nouns sometimes don’t technically function as gerunds. In their non-gerund use, they’re often called verbal nouns, but the terminology varies: sometimes gerunds are considered a type of verbal noun, sometimes a separate category.

          The difference between these nouns and true gerunds is that, unlike gerunds, they don’t have the ability to be modified by adverbs or take objects. They can also be pluralized.

          Think of words like “painting,” “killing,” and “building”: when they describe an activity, they function as gerunds, but when they describe a physical object or individual event, they are verbal nouns without the gerund’s usual ability to be modified by adverbs and take objects.

          Examples: Verbal nouns
          The children enjoy painting and building structures with construction toys.

          My favorite paintings were located in the wing of the building dedicated to modern art.

          Frequently asked questions

          What is a gerund?

          The term gerund refers to the “-ing” form of a verb (e.g., “walking”) when it plays the role of a noun.

          For example, in the sentence “walking is a hobby of mine,” “walking” plays the role of a subject. It could be replaced by another noun like “chess” to create a similar statement. So you can see that although the gerund looks like a verb, it behaves like a noun.

          Gerunds are distinguished from present participles, which look the same but are used as adjectives (e.g., “the walking man”) or to form continuous verb tenses (e.g., “I had been walking that morning”).

          What is the difference between a participle and a gerund?

          Present participles and gerunds look identical, but they have different grammatical functions:

          • Present participles are used in various verb tenses (e.g., “I have been eating”) and as adjectives (e.g., “a laughing child”).
          • Gerunds function as nouns (e.g., “I enjoy jogging”).
          What is a gerund phrase?

          A gerund phrase is a series of words including a gerund (e.g., “skiing”) and any adverbials or objects that modify it. It’s a type of noun phrase.

          The highlighted phrase in the following sentence is a gerund phrase: “Skiing down a steep hill for the first time can be a scary experience.” The whole gerund phrase functions collectively as the subject of the sentence.

          The gerund itself is a noun formed from a verb. It always ends in “-ing,” taking the same form as the present participle of the verb.

          What is the “-ing” form of a verb?

          The “-ing” form of a verb is called the present participle. Present participles can be used as adjectives (e.g., “a thrilling story”) and to form the continuous verb tenses (e.g., the present continuous: “We are partying”).

          Gerunds also use the “-ing” form of a verb, but they function only as nouns (e.g., “I don’t enjoy studying”).

          Sources in this article

          We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

          This Scribbr article

          Caulfield, J. (2023, May 01). Gerund | Definition, Form & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/nouns-and-pronouns/gerund/

          Sources

          Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

          Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

          Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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          Jack Caulfield

          Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.