Q & A about Gerunds

Have you ever been confused by a gerund? Don’t be! Gerunds are a simple English grammar concept. Let’s answer some questions about gerunds.

What is a gerund?

A gerund is formed from a verb but acts as a noun. A gerund always ends in –ing. Running, walking, driving. Gerunds are actions.

What is the difference between a gerund and a noun?

Although gerunds act as nouns, they are not people, places or things. Gerunds are actions. They name activities, behaviors, or states of mind and being.

What is the difference between a gerund and a present participle?

The –ing form of a verb can be used either as a gerund or a present participle. A present participle is the form of a verb that is used in continuous tenses, I’m thinking; alone in nonfinite clauses, thinking about it, I’m not sure what to do; as a noun, that’s good thinking; or as an adjective, running water. This can be tricky, and in most cases, unless you are studying for a grammar exam, it isn’t really important to know the difference. Native English speakers don’t usually know (or care) whether they are using a gerund or a present participle, they just know the –ing form of the word sounds right.

What is the difference between a gerund and an infinitive?

Infinitives are “to” plus a verb. to run, to walk, to drive.

Both gerunds and infinitives can be subjects in a sentence or be the object of a verb. Running is enjoyable. To run is enjoyable. I like walking. I like to walk.  However a gerund can be the object of a preposition, while an infinitive cannot. He is enjoying running in the park.

When should I use a gerund, and when do I use an infinitive?

Use a gerund in sentences about concrete (or real) actions, and ones that happened and are over. I like running. Running is a real and concrete action. We went walking in the park. Walking is an action, it happened and is now over. While infinitives are sometimes used as objects of a preposition, most speakers generally prefer to use gerunds. She bought new shoes for running on the track.

Infinitives are better suited for describing actions that are abstract, unreal, or will occur in the future. I asked him to walk with me. “to walk” is an action planned in the future. I told him to refuse to come. “to refuse” is an abstract action. While an infinitive can appear at the beginning of a sentence as the subject, it is more common for speakers to use an infinitive as a subject complement instead. His favorite activity is to walk in the park.

The best way to learn to use gerunds is by listening to how they are used by native English speakers. Pay attention to when speakers and writers use the –ing form of verbs.

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