Gerunds in English

In English, gerunds are -ing verbs that are used as nouns

Gerunds are really cool, but people mistake what they are all the time. Since we're total grammar nerds, we wanted to give you reasons why you should be super excited about them. Because you really should be. Seriously.

There are literally zero exceptions. All gerunds in English look like this: running, skipping, hopping, writing, looking, singing, guffawing, gnawing, Shmooping, snooping, souping, etc. Take any base form of a verb, add -ing, and it can be a gerund. (Well, if you take into account spelling rules.)

So why are gerunds so cool? Well, chew on this first: nouns are things and ideas that exist in the universe, and words are their labels. A cat is a thing, and every language has a label for it: cat, gato, chat, katze, neko, billi, k├Âttur (we could go on forever). But really, everything in the universe is a thing. If you see something and want to talk about it, you can...by making into into a noun (or "nominalizing").

We bet someone saw their friend crying, and they made the word "sadness." By adding -ness, they turned an adjective ("sad") into a noun. They probably said, "What is that sadness coming out of your eyes?"

But the act of crying (a verb) is probably something they wanted to talk about, too. That's when you'd use a gerund.

Ugh. So cool.

Keep in mind that pretty much every language has some way of nominalizing verbs. It just so happens that English uses the present participle (-ing form). Check out our examples and common mistakes to get a better idea of what a gerund is.

 

Examples

"Falling is something I do way too often."

Boom. The speaker is talking about the act of falling. If "falling" were used as a verb here, we'd have a sentence like: "I'm falling head over heels." or "I keep falling down the stairs."

See the difference?

If you want more proof, just replace "falling" with the first noun you can think of. Let's go with homework:
Homework is something I do way too often.

Well, excuse you.

"I love dancing with my underwear on my head."

We certainly aren't judging.

Here's an instance where an entire gerund phrase is being used: dancing with my underwear on my head. Replace this with absolutely any noun you can think of, and it'll make sense.

"Mayor Wilkensheim is running for office."

Ha. Gotcha. This example does not contain a gerund. Here, "is running for office" is a predicate, and the verb phrase "is running" is in the present progressive tense. We put this here to show you that just because the present participle follows "is," that doesn't mean it's a gerund. Also, that the ol' replace-it-with-a-noun trick isn't always reliable.

Contrast with these examples:
My favorite pastime is running.

My lifelong goal is running for office.
Now those, dear Shmooper, are gerunds.

 

Common mistakes

The tricky part about gerunds is distinguishing them from an actual verb because most of the time, gerunds are used in gerund phrases...which look like predicates. Boo. Our usual find-and-replace trick just doesn't work here.

A foolproof method is not parsing a sentence like a computer. Think about what the sentence is saying. Is the sentence discussing the act of doing something? In that case, it's a gerund. Does it express the act itself? If so, it's not a gerund.

Some extra help: first, identify the subject of the sentence. Is the subject performing the action of the present participle? If so, it's a verb. Is the subject the present participle? If it is, then it's a gerund.

Below are a few example sentences that each contain a present participle. Read them, think about what they're saying, and decide whether the present participle is a gerund or not:
1. Wilhelm Vandercraft was running and skipping for joy.
2. Looking for a sign, Magdalena stopped walking and looked up at the sky.
3. Ignoring your problems never works.
4. I was just thinking about you.
5. When is playing with fire ever a good idea?
6. Burping is something I'm really good at.
7. I'm liking your wacky outfit.
8. You can't prove that I'd been singing in the shower.
9. I'm scared of walking alone at night.
10. Venting is a healthy coping mechanism.

Answer key: N, N, N, N, Y, N, Y, Y, N, N, Y, Y