What Is a Gerund? | Definition & Examples

Nouns and Pronouns updated on  January 22, 2024 5 min read

Gerunds are words ending in “-ing” that function as nouns (e.g., “dancing” in the sentence “She loves dancing”). A gerund looks identical to the present participle form of a verb but has a different grammatical function.

In the example “She loves dancing,” “dancing” refers to a general activity, not a specific occurrence of the activity. Gerunds typically function in this way, denoting a category of action rather than a particular instance.

Unlike most other nouns, gerunds can take direct objects (e.g., “Jack loves playing football”) and can be modified by adverbials (e.g., “Running competitively is exciting”).

Gerund examples
Learning to play a new instrument requires dedication.
I’m not in the habit of watching the news.
Organizing is fun using Mari Kondo’s method.

How to use gerunds

Gerunds serve the same grammatical purposes as other nouns. They can function as subjects, subject complements (which identify or rename the subject), direct objects (which receive the action), and indirect objects (which receive the direct object).

Gerund example

Gerund phrase example

Subject

Swimming is a great way to stay in shape.

Swimming laps at the pool keeps him healthy.

Direct object

She enjoys swimming.

She avoids swimming in cold water.

Indirect object

Linda made swimming a habit.

Jerry gave swimming in the race his best effort.

Object of a preposition

Tom has a love of swimming.

They dedicated their free time to swimming competitively.

Subject complement

His passion is swimming.

Her favorite activity is swimming with friends.

Gerund phrases

A gerund phrase is a kind of noun phrase that consists of a gerund and its modifiers or complements. Gerund phrases can include adverbs, adverbial phrases, direct objects, and indirect objects.

Examples: Gerund phrases
Cooking delicious meals for my family every weekend brings me joy.

Present participles vs gerunds

Gerunds share the same form as present participles but differ in function.

  • Gerunds are nouns. They can serve as subjects, subject complements, or objects in sentences.
  • Present participles can function as adjectives and as elements of continuous verb tenses.

Examples: Present participles vs gerunds
Reading the news can be stressful.
We found a shivering kitten under the car. It had been seeking shelter from the rain.

Gerund form

Gerunds are typically formed by adding “-ing” to the infinitive form of the verb (e.g., “cough” becomes “coughing”). Some verbs require other minor changes before adding the “-ing” suffix.

For verbs with “-ie” endings, change “-ie” to “y” before adding “-ing” (e.g., “die” becomes “dying”). For verbs with “-e” endings, remove “-e” before adding “-ing” (e.g., “move” becomes “moving”). Finally, for verbs with consonant-vowel-consonant endings (e.g., “sit,” “beg,” “jog”), which are sometimes called “CVC” verbs, double the final consonant before adding “-ing” (e.g., “plan” becomes “planning”).

Note
British and American English have different conventions for forming gerunds from verbs with “l” endings.
  • British English always doubles the final “l” (e.g., “model” becomes “modelling”).
  • American English doubles the “l” only if the final syllable is stressed (e.g., “patrol” becomes “patrolling,” but “travel” becomes “traveling”).

Gerunds and infinitives

The infinitive form of a verb (e.g., “to have”) can often be used in the same way as a gerund. For example, “I like to have dinner early” has the same meaning as “I like having dinner early.”

However, infinitives and gerunds can’t always be used in the same ways and don’t always convey the same meaning and tone.

Gerunds are typically preferable as the subject of a sentence. Using an infinitive as the subject of a sentence is not grammatically incorrect, but it is less common and sounds stilted in many contexts.

Examples: Gerunds and infinitives as subjects
To compete in the Olympics is my dream.
Competing in the Olympics is my dream.

Infinitives that include “to” can be used as adjectives, whereas gerunds cannot.

Examples: Infinitives and gerunds as adjectives
I have a lot of laundry to wash.
I have a lot of laundry washing.

Some transitive verbs can be followed by an infinitive that begins with “to” but can’t be followed by a gerund (e.g., “They want to go”). These verbs usually describe something hypothetical, which may or may not occur in the future.

Examples: Transitive verbs, infinitives, and gerunds
We need renting an apartment.
We need to rent an apartment.

Typically, a preposition can be placed before a gerund but not before a “to” infinitive.

Examples: Prepositions before infinitives and gerunds
He has a talent for to play the trombone.
He has a talent for playing the trombone.

Possessives before a gerund

In formal writing, avoid using personal pronouns (e.g., “she,” “he,” “me”) directly before gerunds. For example, the sentence “I’m sorry that me forgetting your birthday upset you” is considered grammatically incorrect. The problem can be corrected by replacing “me” with a possessive noun (e.g., “the kids’,” “Kate’s”) or with a possessive determiner such as “our” or “my” (e.g., “I’m sorry that my forgetting your birthday upset you”).

Replacing the gerund “forgetting” with a different type of noun makes it obvious that the object pronoun is incorrect. For example, “I’m sorry that me forgetfulness upset you” sounds unnatural.

In casual speech, using nouns and personal pronouns before gerunds is quite common. However, in academic writing and other formal contexts, using a possessive noun or possessive determiner before a gerund is important.

Examples: Possessive before a gerund
Dan’s avoiding the question irritated Kim.
Their bickering made the trip unpleasant.

Note
Possessives aren’t needed before present participles (i.e., “-ing” words that function as adjectives or verbs) even though they look the same as gerunds. For example, the sentence "The boy running to catch the ball was tackled” is correct. In this case, “running” is a present participle acting as an adjective to describe the noun “boy.” Using a possessive (i.e., “The boy’s running to catch the ball was tackled”) in this case would make the sentence illogical.

Gerunds and verbal nouns

Some “-ing” words that function as nouns are distinct from gerunds. Known as “verbal nouns,” they differ from gerunds in three main ways: they can be pluralized, they cannot be modified by adverbs, and they cannot take objects.

Examples of verbal nouns include words such as “drawing,” “cooking,” and “writing” when they describe a tangible object or a specific event rather than a category of activity.

Examples: Gerunds and verbal nouns
My talent is drawing, and my sister’s talents are writing and cooking.
We could smell Mom’s delicious home cooking as we pulled into the driveway.
She kept a collection of drawings and writing from our school days.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Parts of speech

Other

Offence vs offense

Participial phrase

At your earliest convenience

Humor or humour

Superlative adjective

Yours truly

Realise or realize

Comparative adjective

Sincerely yours

Learnt or learned

Nouns

Class act

Cancelled or canceled

Pronouns

Devil’s advocate


Frequently asked questions about gerunds

What is the difference between a participle and a gerund?

Gerunds and present participles look the same but serve different grammatical purposes.

  • Gerunds are nouns (e.g., “She loves teaching”).
  • Present participles can be used as adjectives (e.g., “the crashing waves”) and as part of continuous verb tenses (e.g., “We are studying,” “He has been traveling”).

What is the “-ing” form of a verb?

The present participle is the “-ing” form of a verb. A present participle can be used in continuous verb tenses (e.g., “They have been worrying”) or as an adjective (e.g., “a daunting challenge”).

A gerund also takes the form of an “-ing” verb, but it functions as a noun (e.g., “He likes skiing”).


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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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