I’ll admit it, I love gerunds. I guess that makes me not only an English teacher, but also a grammar geek. Similarly, I hope by the end of this article, I can make you one too. Well, at least starting with the gerund.
The truth is, grammar gets a bad rep. Perhaps it’s the way grammar is taught in school. Yet I think if you appreciate the different aspects of English, in its simplest and smallest parts, grammar becomes less overwhelming. I am a native English speaker who was never taught gerunds in school specifically, because the use of gerunds just comes naturally.
Nevertheless, for English Language Learners (ELLs), I know that it’s not the case. In my many years of teaching in an English language school environment, I have witnessed gerunds taught again and again in the best English textbooks at practically every level. First of all, what is a gerund? A gerund is a verbal, or a word derived from a verb. Other important verbals are the infinitive and participle. A gerund is a verbal ending in -ing that plays the role of a noun.
ELLs too often neglect the wonders of the gerund.
Wonder of the gerund #1
It can be used to give an opinion, to begin a sentence, or to even begin a thesis in an essay.
The following are some examples:
- Running is my favorite sport for a variety of reasons.
- Watching Netflix in English is an easy way to practice English.
- Eating in a rush is not good for your health.
As you can see above, using gerunds is quite an easy way to get your ideas going. You can modify the gerund to give more complexity to an idea, as in, “eating in a rush”. I could also have said “eating slowly”, and that would have started a whole different sequence of ideas. Of course, these statements, whether in writing or conversation, should be followed by explanations and examples. ELLs often seem to favor the infinitive, but that can sometimes lead to awkward writing.
It is common for ELLs to write, “to run is my favorite sport for a variety of reasons”. That doesn’t make sense. Though you can use the infinitive to start a sentence on some occasions, it’s trickier for an ELL (that’s another article). My advice: stick with the gerund for a while.
Wonder of the gerund #2
It acts like a noun in a sentence, yet looks like a verb. Yes, I’ve stated this above, but let’s take a more careful look.
Like nouns, the gerund can be: the subject, the object of a preposition, a subject complement, or an object of the verb in a sentence.
- Skiing is my favorite outdoor sport. Here it is used as the subject.
- One of the smartest habits I know is getting up early. Here it is a subject complement.
- Snowy weather is good for skiing. Here it is used after a preposition.
- I love skiing. Here it is used as the object of the verb.
You will naturally begin to differentiate an -ing form of a verb (acting like a verb or an adjective) and a gerund. Examples:
- I am working today. [Working is a verb, a present participle, an action]
- She is a working mother. [Now working is a participial adjective]
- His working hard is paying off. [Now working is a gerund]
Wonder of the gerund #3
Gerunds follow certain verbs. Just as there are certain verbs that need to be followed by infinitives or objects, some must be followed by a gerund.
Here are some examples of all of the above:
- I need to study. “Need” should be followed by an infinitive.
- I thanked my mother for helping me yesterday. “Thank + object + for + gerund” is followed by an object and then a gerund.
- She dislikes sunbathing. “Dislike” can only be followed by a gerund.
- I asked her to help me. “Ask + object pronoun + infinitive”
Okay, this topic deserves another whole article, so don’t get overwhelmed. Let’s keep it simple: it’s important to learn and recognize the verbs that can and should be followed by a gerund.
As an ELL, it is definitely worth learning the verbs that are followed by gerunds. Yes, memorize them and they will be your friends forever. To help you get started, here are some of the verbs that should always be followed by a gerund.
- quit - My sister quit smoking many years ago.
- mind - I don’t mind doing the dishes.
- resist - I resisted eating the last cookie.
- miss - I miss seeing you!
- avoid - I avoid eating dinner while watching TV at the same time.
Please note. There are a few verbs that can be followed by both gerunds and infinitives (for example: love and like). But some of these words that is followed by a gerund or infinitive have completely different meanings. Example:
- He stopped smoking. This means he quit smoking.
- He stopped to smoke. This means he stopped what he was doing to have a cigarette.
To sum up, the gerund is a wonderful verbal. It has a simple -ing form that can add elegance to your writing and speech. Getting in the habit of starting off your ideas with a gerund will help your writing. I guarantee it! Using them anywhere in the sentence where a noun goes will expand your communication skills, not to mention your vocabulary. In addition, creating gerunds from verbs is quite easy and useful, especially when your vocabulary is limited.
Lastly, many verbs are married to the gerund, so start memorizing which ones they are. You won’t make the mistake of saying something like, “I avoid to eat too much”. Instead you will effortlessly say, “I avoid eating too much”.
Don’t you just love the gerund now that you’ve seen some of its amazing wonders? Are you turning into a grammar geek? No worries.