A gerund (abbreviated GER) is any of various nonfinite verb forms in various languages, most often, but not exclusively, one that functions as a noun. In English it is a type of verbal noun, one that retains properties of a verb, such as being modifiable by an adverb and being able to take a direct object. The term "-ing form" is often used in English to refer to the gerund specifically. Traditional grammar made a distinction within -ing forms between present participles and gerunds, a distinction that is not observed in such modern, linguistically informed grammars as A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language and The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
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The Latin gerund, in a restricted set of syntactic contexts, denotes the sense of the verb in isolation after certain prepositions, and in certain uses of the genitive, dative, and ablative cases. It is very rarely combined with dependent sentence elements such as Object. To express such concepts, the construction with the adjectival gerundive is preferred. By contrast, the term gerund has been used in the grammatical description of other languages to label verbal nouns used in a wide range of syntactic contexts and with a full range of clause elements.
Thus, English grammar uses gerund to mean an -ing form used in non-finite clauses such as playing on computers. This is not a normal use of the Latin gerund. Moreover, the clause may function within a sentence as subject or object, which is impossible for a Latin gerund.
The contrast with the Latin gerund is also clear when the clause consists of a single word.
In these uses playing is traditionally labelled a participle.
Traditional grammar also distinguishes -ing forms with exclusively noun properties as in
|I work in that building||contrast so-called "gerund"||I like building things|
|That is a good painting||contrast so-called "gerund"||I like painting pictures|
|Her writing is good||contrast so-called "gerund"||I like writing novels|
The objection to the term gerund in English grammar is that -ing forms are frequently used in ways that do not conform to the clear-cut three-way distinction made by traditional grammar into gerunds, participles and nouns.
The Latin gerund is a form of the verb. It is composed of:
|laud-||-a-||-nd-||-um, -?, -?||First conjugation||laudandum||'the act of praising'|
|mon-||-e-||-nd-||-um, -?, -?||Second conjugation||monendum||'the act of warning'|
|leg-||-e-||-nd-||-um, -?, -?||Third conjugation||legendum||'the act of reading'|
|capi-||-e-||-nd-||-um, -?, -?||Third conjugation||capiendum||'the act of taking'|
|audi-||-e-||-nd-||-um, -?, -?||Fourth conjugation||audiendum||'the act of hearing'|
The four inflections are used for a limited range of grammatical functions
|Nominative||Subject||no example||infinitive used|
|Accusative||Object||no example||infinitive used|
|After preposition||canes alere ad venandum||'to rear dogs for hunting'||after ad, in, ob and occasionally other prepositions|
|Genitive||Modifying abstract noun||pugnandi tempus||'time for (lit. of) fighting'||nouns include occasio, tempus, causa, gratia|
|Dative||Expressing purpose||auscultando operam dare||'apply effort to listening'||after verbs e.g. studeo, operam dare and adjectives e.g. natus, optimus|
|Ablative||Instrumental||pugnando cepimus||'we took by fighting'||became undistinguishable from participle use, thus providing the gerundio forms in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, which are used instead of forms derived from Latin present participles|
These functions could be fulfilled by other abstract nouns derived from verbs such as v?nãtiõ 'hunting'. Gerunds are distinct in two ways.
When grammars of languages such as English came to be written based on works of Latin grammar, the term gerund was used to label non-finite verb forms with these two properties.
Meanings of the term gerund as used in relation to various languages are listed below.
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.
In traditional grammars of English, the term gerund labels an important use of the form of the verb ending in -ing (for details of its formation and spelling, see English verbs). Other important uses are termed participle (used adjectivally or adverbially), and as a pure verbal noun.
An -ing form is termed gerund when it behaves as a verb within a clause (so that it may be modified by an adverb or have an object); but the resulting clause as a whole (sometimes consisting of only one word, the gerund itself) functions as a noun within the larger sentence.
For example, consider the sentence "Eating this cake is easy." Here, the gerund is the verb eating, which takes an object this cake. The entire clause eating this cake is then used as a noun, which in this case serves as the subject of the larger sentence.
An item such as eating this cake in the foregoing example is an example of a non-finite verb phrase; however, because phrases of this type do not require a subject, it is also a complete clause. (Traditionally, such an item would be referred to as a phrase, but in modern linguistics it has become common to call it a clause.) A gerund clause such as this is one of the types of non-finite clause. The structure may be represented as follows:
|STRUCTURE OF SENTENCE||Eating this cake||is||easy|
|STRUCTURE OF NON-FINITE CLAUSE||eating||this cake|
Non-finite verb forms ending in -ing, whether termed gerund or participle may be marked like finite forms as Continuous or Non-continuous, Perfect or Non-perfect, Active or Passive. Thus, traditional grammars have represented the gerund as having four forms -- two for the active voice and two for the passive:
|Present or Continuous||Loving||Being loved|
|Perfect||Having loved||Having been loved|
The same forms are available when the term participle is used.
The following sentences illustrate some uses of gerund clauses, showing how such a clause serves as a noun within the larger sentence. In some cases, the clause consists of just the gerund (although in many such cases the word could equally be analyzed as a pure verbal noun).
In traditional grammars, gerunds are distinguished from other uses of a verb's -ing form: the present participle (which is a non-finite verb form like the gerund, but is adjectival or adverbial in function), and the pure verbal noun or deverbal noun.
Non finite -ing clauses may have the following roles in a sentence:
|A||Subject||Eating cakes is pleasant.|
|B||Extraposed subject||It can be pleasant eating cakes.|
|C||Subject Complement||What I'm looking forward to is eating cakes|
|D||Direct object||I can't stop eating cakes.|
|E||Prepositional object||I dreamt of eating cakes.|
|F||Adverbial||He walks the streets eating cakes.|
|G||Part of noun phrase||It's a picture of a man eating cakes.|
|H||Part of adjective phrase||They are all busy eating cakes.|
|I||Complement of preposition||She takes pleasure in eating cakes.|
In traditional grammars the term gerund is not used for roles F, G, and H.
|1. John suggested asking Bill.|
|STRUCTURE OF SENTENCE||John||suggested||asking Bill||Role D object -- traditionally asking is a "gerund"|
|STRUCTURE OF NON-FINITE CLAUSE||asking||Bill|
|2. I heard John asking Bill.|
|STRUCTURE OF SENTENCE||I||heard||John asking Bill||Role G adverbial -- traditionally asking is a "participle"|
|STRUCTURE OF NON-FINITE CLAUSE||John||asking||Bill|
|3. Playing football is enjoyable|
|STRUCTURE OF SENTENCE||Playing football||is||enjoyable||Role A subject -- traditionally playing is a "gerund"|
|STRUCTURE OF NON-FINITE CLAUSE||playing||football|
|4. Her playing of the Bach fugues was inspiring.|
|STRUCTURE OF SENTENCE||Her playing
of the Bach
|STRUCTURE OF NOUN PHRASE||Her||playing||of the Bach fugues||Noun phrase, not clause -- playing is a verbal noun |
(also termed deverbal noun)
For more details and examples, see -ing: uses.
In traditional grammars, a grammatical subject has been defined in such a way that it occurs only in finite clauses, where it is liable to 'agree' with the 'number' of the finite verb form. Nevertheless, non-finite clauses imply a 'doer' of the verb, even if that doer is indefinite 'someone or something'. For example,
Often the 'doer' is clearly signalled
However, the 'doer' may not be indefinite or already expressed in the sentence. Rather it must be overtly specified, typically in a position immediately before the non-finite verb
The 'doer' expression is not the grammatical subject of a finite clause, so objective them is used rather than subjective they.
Traditional grammarians may object to the term subject for these 'doers'. And prescriptive grammarians go further, objecting to the use of forms more appropriate to the subjects (or objects) of finite clauses. The argument is that this results in two noun expressions with no grammatical connection. They prefer to express the 'doer' by a possessive form, such as used with ordinary nouns:
The possessive construction with -ing clauses is actually very rare in present-day English. Works of fiction show a moderate frequency, but the construction is highly infrequent in other types of text.
Prescriptivists do not object when the non-finite clause modifies a noun phrase
The sense of the cat as notional subject of licking is disregarded. Rather they see the cat as exclusively the object of I saw The modifying phrase licking the cream is therefore described as a participle use.
Henry Fowler claims that the use of a non-possessive noun to precede a gerund arose as a result of confusion with the above usage with a participle, and should thus be called fused participle or geriple.
It has been claimed that if the prescriptive rule is followed, the difference between the two forms may be used to make a slight distinction in meaning:
However, Quirk et al. show that the range of senses of -ing forms with possessive and non-possessive subjects is far more diverse and nuanced:
|The painting of Brown is as skilful as that of Gainsborough.||a. 'Brown's mode of painting'|
b. 'Brown's action of painting'
|Brown's deft painting of his daughter is a delight to watch.||'It is a delight to watch while Brown deftly paints his daughter.'|
|Brown's deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch.||a. 'It is a delight to watch Brown's deft action of painting.'|
b. 'It is a delight to watch while Brown deftly paints.'
|I dislike Brown's painting his daughter.||a. "I dislike the fact that Brown paints his daughter.'|
b. 'I dislike the way that Brown paints his daughter.'
|I dislike Brown painting his daughter.||'I dislike the fact that Brown paints his daughter (when she ought to be at school).'|
|I watched Brown painting his daughter.||a. 'I watched Brown as he painted his daughter.'|
b. 'I watched the process of Brown('s) painting his daughter.'
|Brown deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch.||a. 'It is a delight to watch Brown's deft action of painting his daughter'|
b. 'It is a delight to watch while Brown deftly paints his daughter.'
These sentence exemplify a spectrum of senses from more noun-like to more verb--like. At the extremes of the spectrum they place
|some paintings of Brown's||a. 'some paintings that Brown owns' |
b. 'some paintings painted by Brown'
|Brown's paintings of his daughters||a. paintings depicted his daughter and painted by him'|
b. 'paintings depicting his daughter and painted by somebody else but owned by him'
|Painting his daughter, Brown noticed that his hand was shaking.||'while he was painting'|
|Brown painting his daughter that day, I decided to go for a walk.||'since Brown was painting his daughter'|
|The man painting the girl is Brown.||'who is painting'|
|The silently painting man is Brown.||'who is silently painting'|
|Brown is painting his daughter.|
In some cases, particularly with a non-personal subject, the use of the possessive before a gerund may be considered redundant even in quite a formal register. For example, "There is no chance of the snow falling" (rather than the prescriptively correct "There is no chance of the snow's falling").
The term gerund describes certain uses of -ing clauses as 'complementation' of individual English verbs, that is to say the choice of class that are allowable after that word.
The principal choices of clauses are
|Clause type||Example||Subject of clause||Possessive||Passive equivalent|
|1. finite||I remember that she came.||overt grammatical subject she||impossible||That she came is remembered.-- more frequent: It is remembered that she came.|
|2. bare infinitive||I saw her come.||her acts as object of saw and subject of come||impossible||not possible|
|3a. to-infinitive without subject||She remembered to come.||notional subject 'understood' as identical to she||n.a.||not possible|
|3b. to-infinitive with subject||I reminded her to come.||her acts as object of reminded and subject of to come||impossible||She was reminded to come.|
|4a. -ing without subject||I remember seeing her come.||notional subject 'understood' as identical to I||n.a.||rare but possible: Seeing her come is remembered.|
|4b. -ing with subject||I remember her coming.||her acts as object of remember and subject of coming||possible||rare but possible: Her coming is remembered.|
|5a . -ing without subject||She kept coming.||notional subject 'understood' as identical to she||n.a.||not possible|
|5b. -ing with subject||We kept her coming.||her acts as object of kept and subject of coming||impossible||She was kept coming.|
|6a. -ing without subject||She ended up coming.||notional subject 'understood' as identical to she||n.a.||not possible|
|6b. -ing without subject||She wasted time coming.||notional subject 'understood' as identical to she||n.a.||Her time was wasted coming.|
Historically, the -ing suffix was attached to a limited number of verbs to form abstract nouns, which were used as the object of verbs such as like. The use was extended in various ways: the suffix became attachable to all verbs; the nouns acquired verb-like characteristics; the range of verbs allowed to introduce the form spread by analogy first to other verbs expressing emotion, then by analogy to other semantic groups of verbs associated with abstract noun objects; finally the use spread from verbs taking one-word objects to other semantically related groups verbs.
The present-day result of these developments is that the verbs followed by -ing forms tend to fall into semantic classes. The following groups have been derived from analysis of the commonest verbs in the COBUILD data bank:
In addition, the COBUILD team identifies four groups of verbs followed by -ing forms that are hard to class as objects. In the verb + -ing object construction the action or state expressed by the verb can be separated from the action or state expressed by the -ing form. In the following groups, the senses are inseparable, jointly expressing a single complex action or state. Some grammarians do not recognise all these patterns as gerund use.
Verbs with this pattern do not normally allow the 'subject' of the -ing clause to be used in an equivalent passive construction such as *She is remembered coming.
The COBUILD Guide analyses her coming as the single object of I remember.
Many of the verbs that allow pattern 4a (without object) also allow this pattern.
In contrast to Pattern 4b, these verbs allow the 'subject' of the -ing clauses to be used in an equivalent passive construction such as She was kept coming.
The COBUILD guide analyses her coming as a string of two objects of We kept:- (1)her and (2)coming.
These verbs refer to starting, spending or ending time.
The following -ing form is an adverbial, traditionally classed as a participle rather than a gerund.
These verbs also relate to time (and, by extension, money). The object generally expresses this concept.
However, the object of busy or occupy must be a reflexive pronoun e.g. She busied herself coming.
The following -ing form is an adverbial, generally classed as a participle rather than a gerund.
Like the -ing suffix, the to-infinitive spread historically from a narrow original use, a prepositional phrase referring to future time. Like the -ing form it spread to all English verbs and to form non-finite clauses. Like the -ing form, it spread by analogy to use with words of similar meaning.
A number of verbs now belong in more than one class in their choice of 'complementation'.
English verb forms ending in -ing are sometimes borrowed into other languages. In some cases, they become pseudo-anglicisms, taking on new meanings or uses not found in English. For instance, camping means "campsite" in many languages, while parking often means a car park. Both these words are treated as nouns, with none of the features of the so-called "gerund" in English. For more details and examples, see -ing words in other languages.
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.
In an 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.
In Alan Bennett's play, 'The History Boys', Dakin, when flirting with Irwin, states that 'your sucking me off' is a gerund and 'would please Hector'.
A noun formed from a verb (such as the '-ing' form of an English verb when used as a noun).