I've noticed that when teaching grammar to adults (when you teach writing at the college level, you still teach grammar, because people never managed to learn it properly the first time around), the first thing people forget is the name for something, or the language terms.
If you can't remember what something is supposed to be called, then you also won't be able to say how it's supposed to be used. So, today I'm starting a new thread in our Good Grammar series - definitions of grammar terms.
The gerund is a verb being used as a noun. In other words, the gerund is a form of a verb. This makes it different from other nouns, who start life as nouns. Chair, clock, dog, Jasmine, and yesterday are all nouns in their base forms. Run, think, yell, shimmer, and eat are all verbs in their base form. You look at them and think, "Action word."
To create a gerund form, take the base verb form and add -ing. For our five examples then, the gerund forms would be: running, thinking, yelling, shimmering, and eating. Notice that when I added -ing to run, I also had to add an addition n. This is because run is an irregular verb and it's forms aren't "simple" - in other words, irregular verbs don't take the same endings as other verbs. (Irregular verbs are too big a topic to cover in this post. We'll come back to it eventually.)
Once you have the gerund form, you can use the word in a sentence like any other noun. Here are a few examples of our created gerunds:
- Running is my favorite exercise. (Running is being used as the subject of the sentence.)
- The most difficult part of studying is all the thinking. (Notice that we actually have two gerunds here: thinking and studying. While thinking is the object of the linking verb, studying is the noun in a prepositional phrase.)
- Yelling is what some children do best. (Again, the gerund is used as a subject.)
- Roger truly loves eating. (Eating is the direct object of the verb.)
Notice that I never used the gerund shimmering. Why? Because it's really hard to use shimmering as a noun. Not all gerund forms are used, because sometimes, the verb simply doesn't make sense as a noun. Shimmering is a word you've heard of though, right? That's because shimmering is more frequently used as an adjective.
One last thought: Gerunds can also make phrases. These phrases, like "swimming laps" or "jogging an hour" become a noun by themselves. For example, in the sentence "Swimming laps is good for the heart", swimming laps is a gerund phrase that creates one subject. Another example, in the sentence, "My daily exercise is jogging a mile", jogging a mile is an object of the linking verb.
So, that's gerunds. Just don't forget the term the next time you need to describe how you used a certain word in a sentence.