In linguistics, the term “gerund” denotes certain types of non-finite verb forms in various languages.
•As applied to English, it refers to the use of a verb (in its -ing form) as a noun (for example, the verb “learning” in the sentence “Learning is an easy process for some”).
•As applied to French, it refers either to the adverbial participle—also called the gerundive—or to the present adjectival participle.
•As applied to Latin, its form is based on the participle ending, similarly to English. The –ns ending is replaced with -ndus, and the preceding ā or ē is shortened. However, the gerund is only ever seen in the accusative form (“ndum”), genitive form (“ndi”), dative form (“ndo”) or ablative form (“ndo”) (see Latin conjugation.) If the gerund is needed in the nominative form, the present infinitive is used instead.
•As applied to Japanese, it designates verb and verbals adjective forms in dictionary form paired with the referral particle no, which turns the verbal into a concept or property noun.
•As applied to Portuguese, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called gerúndio.
•As applied to Romanian, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called the gerunziu, formed by appending -ând or -ind, to the verb stem, like in cântând/fugind”.
•As applied to Spanish, it refers to an adverbial participle (a verbal adverb), called in Spanish the gerundio.
•As applied to Turkish, it refers to the Turkish verbal nouns formed by appending -ma or -me, depending on vowel harmony, to the verb stem, like in “Yapma değil, Avrupa malı bu.” (“It is not a fake, but produced in Europe” – not to confuse with the negational -ma postfix.) The Turkish gerund is rather similar in meaning and use to the English gerund.
•As applied to Arabic, it refers to the verb’s action noun, known as the masdar form (Arabic: المصدر). This form ends in a tanwin and is generally the equivalent of the -ing ending in English.
•As applied to Hebrew, it refers either to the verb’s action noun, or to the part of the infinitive following the infinitival prefix (also called the infinitival construct).
•As applied to West 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.
In 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.
The word ‘gerund’ in English comes from the Latin term gerundium, of the same meaning. Gerundium itself comes from the gerundive of the Latin verb gero, gerundus, meaning “to be carried out”.
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 of only one word, the gerund itself) acts as a noun within the larger sentence. For example: Eating this cake is easy.
In “Eating this cake is easy,” “eating this cake,” although traditionally known as a phrase, is referred to as a non-finite clause in modern linguistics. “Eating” is the verb in the clause, while “this cake” is the object of the verb. “Eating this cake” acts as a noun phrase within the sentence as a whole, though; the subject of the sentence is the non-finite clause, specifically eating.
Other examples of the gerund:
• I like swimming. (direct object)
• Swimming is fun. (subject)
• She is considering having a holiday.
• Do you feel like going out?
• I can’t help falling in love with you.
• I can’t stand not seeing you.
Not all nouns that are identical in form to the present participle are gerunds. The formal distinction is that a gerund is a verbal noun – a noun derived from a verb that retains verb characteristics, that functions simultaneously as a noun and a verb, while other nouns in the form of the present participle (ending in -ing) are deverbal nouns, which function as common nouns, not as verbs at all. Compare:
•I like fencing. (gerund, an activity, could be replaced with “to fence”)
•The white fencing adds to the character of the neighborhood. (deverbal, could be replaced with an object such as “bench”)
Double nature of the gerund
As the result of its origin and development, the gerund has nominal and verbal properties. The nominal characteristics of the gerund are as follows:
1. The gerund can perform the function of subject, object and predicative:
Smoking endangers your health. (subject)
I like making people happy. (object)
2. The gerund can be preceded by a preposition:
I’m tired of arguing.
3. Like a noun the gerund can be modified by a noun in the possessive case, a possessive adjective, or an adjective:
I wonder at John’s keeping calm.
Is there any objection to my seeing her?
Brisk walking relieves stress.
The verbal characteristics of the gerund include the following:
1. The gerund of transitive verbs can take a direct object:
I’ve made good progress in speaking Basque.
2. The gerund can be modified by an adverb:
Breathing deeply helps you to calm down.
3. The gerund has the distinctions of aspect and voice.
Having read the book once before makes me more prepared.
Being deceived can make someone feel angry.
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.
• I will never quit smoking.
• We postponed making any decision.
• After two years of analyzing, we finally made a decision.
• We heard whispering.
• They denied having 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
advise, recommend and forbid:
These are followed by a to-infinitive when there is an object as well, but by a gerund otherwise.
•The police advised us not to enter the building, for a murder had occurred. (Us is the object of advised.)
•The police advised against our entering the building. (Our is used for the gerund entering.)
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.
begin, continue, start; hate, like, love, prefer
With would, the verbs hate, like, love, and prefer are usually followed by the to-infinitive.
•I would like to work there. (more usual than working)
When talking about sports, there is usually a difference in meaning between the infinitive and gerund (see the next section).
With a change in meaning
like, love, prefer
In some contexts, following these verbs with a to-infinitive when the subject of the first verb is the subject of the second verb provides more clarity than a gerund.
•I like to box. (I enjoy doing it myself.)
•I like boxing. (Either I enjoy watching it, I enjoy doing it myself, or the idea of boxing is otherwise appealing.)
•I do not like gambling, but I do like to gamble.”
dread, hate and cannot bear:
These verbs are followed by a to-infinitive when talking subjunctively (often 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.
• 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.)
forget and remember:
When these have meanings that 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 her plans. (She did not tell me, although she should have.)
• She forgot telling me her 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.)
• I remembered going to work. (I remembered that I went to work.)
• After winning the semi-finals, he went on to play in the finals. (He completed the semi-finals and later played in the finals.)
• He went on giggling, not having noticed the teacher enter. (He continued doing so.)
• I did not mean to scare you off. (I did not intend to scare you off.)
• Taking a new job in the city meant leaving behind her familiar surroundings. (If she took the job, she would have to leave behind her familiar surroundings.)
• We regret to inform you that you have failed your exam. (polite or formal form of apology)
• I very much regret saying what I said. (I wish that I had not said that.)
When a to-infinitive is used, the subject is shown to make an effort at something, attempt or endeavor to do something. If a gerund is used, the subject is shown to attempt 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.
When the infinitive is used after ‘stop’ or ‘quit’, it means that the subject stops one activity and starts the activity indicated by the infinitive. If the gerund is used, it means that the subject stops the activity
indicated by the gerund.
• She stopped to smell the flowers.
• She stopped smelling the flowers.
Or more concisely:
• She stopped walking to smell the flowers.
• He quit working there to travel abroad.
Gerunds preceded by a genitive
Because of its noun properties, the genitive (possessive) case is preferred for a noun or pronoun preceding a gerund, which is functioning as the subject of the gerund’s verbal element.
• We enjoyed their [genitive] singing.
This use is preferred in formal writing or speaking. In casual speech, the objective case is sometimes used in place of the possessive:
• I do not see it making any difference. (I do not see its making any difference is correct.)
Using the possessive case with the gerund is applicable in all situations, for instance:
• He affected my going there.
• He affected your going there.
• He affected his/her/its going there.
• He affected our going there.
• He affected their going there.
• He affected Mary’s going there.
The verbal action of the gerund belongs, in effect, to the subject practising it; thus, the possessive is required to clearly demonstrate that relationship.
In some situations, either the possessive or the nominative case may be logical, but with slightly different meanings; but when the nominative case is used the verbal element is a participle, not a gerund:
• The teacher’s shouting startled the student. (Shouting is a gerund, and teacher’s is a possessive noun indicating whose shouting is being talked about; but shouting is the subject of the sentence.)
• The teacher shouting startled the student. (Shouting is a participle describing the teacher. This sentence means The teacher who was shouting startled the student. In this sentence, the subject is the teacher herself. A clearer way to write this sentence might be The teacher, shouting, startled the student.)
Either of these sentences means that the student was startled because the teacher was shouting, but the first places greater emphasis on the shouting by making it the subject of the sentence, while the second places greater emphasis on the teacher and is not using a gerund.
Despite such examples of a similar construction that uses a participle instead of a gerund, using a noun or pronoun in anything except the possessive case as the subject of a gerund (He affected me going there) is incorrect in formal writing.
Gerunds and present participles
Insofar as there is a distinction between gerunds and present participles, it is generally fairly clear which is which. The subject or object of a preposition is a gerund. If, on the other hand, the word modifies a noun attributively or absolutely, it is a participle. The main source of confusion is when the word follows a verb, in which case it may be a predicate adjective and hence a participle, or a direct object or predicate nominative and hence a gerund. In this case, a few transformations can help distinguish the cases. In the table that follows, ungrammatical sentences are marked with asterisks, per common linguistic practice; it should be noted 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 meanings, when applied to sentences with participles.
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 from in English itself. In many of these cases, the loanword has functionally become a noun rather than a gerund. For instance, camping is a campsite in Bulgarian, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish; in Bulgarian, Dutch, French, Polish, and Russian parking is a car park; lifting is a facelift in Bulgarian, French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Hebrew, and Spanish. The French word for shampoo is (le) shampooing.
The gerund in popular culture
Russian language has a commonly used word “gerund”, or “yerund” (ерунда) meaning nonsense, or something unimportant.
In the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, Searle included a series of cartoons on the “private life of the gerund”, intended to parody the linguistic snobbery of Latin teachers’ striving after strict grammatical correctness and the difficulty experienced by students in comprehending the construction.
Owen Johnson’s “Lawrenceville Stories” feature a Latin teacher who constantly demands that his students determine whether a given word is a gerund or a gerundive.
In the new episode of Dan Vs., “The Ninja”, after Dan’s milk carton exploded from the ninja’s shuriken, a teenager said to Dan “Drinking problem much?” and Dan complained that the sentence had no verb, just a gerund.