The gerund

(Using the gerund in English grammar)

Table of contents – gerund

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of the gerund
  2. Formation of the gerund
  3. Present, perfect; active, passive forms
  4. Further explanations and exercises

What is the gerund and how is it used?

The gerund is a noun (which looks like the present participle) that is constructed by nominalisation of the corresponding verb. Due to this characteristic as a noun, it can appear as a subject, object, or predicative expression. Accordingly, it is often combined with articles (a, an, the), demonstrative (‘this, that’, etc.) or possessive pronouns (‘my, your, his’, etc.). Compare the following functions it can fulfil:

  • The gerund can be used …
    • … as the subject of a sentence. Is this the case, it usually comes before the verb:
      • Being on time is always a good start.”
      • The building over there is 200 years old.”
        • with the definite article ‘the
      • That handwriting is impossible to read.”
        • with the demonstrative pronoun ‘that
    • … as an object. Consequently, it is usually placed after the verb:
      • “She loves reading.”
        • here in combination with the verb ‘love
      • “The architect is showing an interesting drawing.”
        • with the indefinite article ‘an’ and the additional modifying adjective ‘interesting
      • “I appreciate your waiting.”
        • with the possessive pronoun ‘your
    • … as a predicative expression (that means belonging to the predicate as a subject or object complement). In most of these cases, it occurs together with the verb ‘to be’ or other linking verbs:
      • “His hardest task was writing the book.”
        • Careful: This is a predicative nominal and is not to be confused with the past continuous.
      • “Peter’s favourite hobby is playing the guitar.”

How is the gerund formed?

The gerund corresponds precisely to the present participle or the ing-form and is, therefore, formed according to the respective rules. You can easily remember to append the suffix ‘-ing’ to the base form (infinitive) of the verb, which is valid for most of the verbs. A more detailed explanation, including exceptions, is described in the article formation of the present participle.

What forms can the gerund take?

A typical grammatical categorisation is that the gerund can have four different forms. These four are composed of two present and two perfect tense forms, each in the active and passive voice. To get a quick overview, compare the following examples:

  • The gerund can either appear in the present tense (whereas it is in the continuous form by its nature):
    • “We love going for a walk in the rain.”
      • active voice
    • “I don’t like being asked senseless questions.”
      • This statement contains a gerund in the passive voice; therefore, it requires the auxiliary verb ‘to be’.
  • Or it can be in the perfect tense (whereas the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ in the progressive aspect needs to be used for this form):
    • Having written all the work emails, he took a break.”
      • example in the active voice
    • Having been seen, the burglar ran away.”
      • gerund in the passive voice

Summary

Once more, this table illustrates the possible forms of the gerund based on the verb ‘to ask’:

  Active voice Passive voice
Present tense gerund asking being asked
Note: ‘to be’ must appear in the ing-form.
Perfect tense gerund having asked having been asked
Note: ‘having been’ must always be part of the whole form.

Further explanations related to the ‘Use of the gerund’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Using the gerund in English grammar’ and could be interesting too: