Disclaimer: This is a recurring and random series of posts. I'm currently enrolled in a basic writing/editing class and felt that my notes might be helpful to others. Please note, I am not an editor. I'm just an author trying to learn more about the craft to improve my own work, and sharing the things I learn along the way. Enjoy.
What the heck is a gerund?
A gerund is a verb with an -ing on the end of it that acts as a noun. Every gerund will end in -ing, unlike participles. Got it?
Since a gerund functions as a noun, it occupies some positions in a sentence that a noun ordinarily would, for example: subject (Who? or What? before the verb), direct object (Whom? or What? after the verb), subject complement (the adjective, noun, or pronoun that follows a linking verb), and object of preposition.
(and you thought you left sentence diagramming behind in elementary school)
Sounds simple enough, right? Sure it is, until it gets confused with a participle.
Okay then, What's a participle?
A participle is a verb most often ending in -ing or -ed and acts as an adjective modifying a noun.
Clear as mud right?
Maybe this will help
"Because they are nounlike, we can think of gerunds as names. But rather than naming persons, places, things, events, and the like, as nouns generally do, gerunds, because they are verbs in form, name activities or behaviors or states of mind or states of being."
(Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, Understanding English Grammar. Allyn & Bacon, 1998)
So a gerund is supposed to act like a descriptive noun but have an -ing on the end. Let's look at some example sentences.
They don't appreciate my singing.
Singing is the direct object.
Flying makes me nervous.
Flying is the subject.
My cat's favorite activity is sleeping.
Sleeping compliments activity.
The police arrested him for stealing
Stealing is an object of preposition.
One of his duties is attending meetings.
attending compliments the verb "to be."
I will call you after arriving at the office.
arriving follows the preposition after.
If we want to use a verb after a preposition, it must be a gerund.
Please call me before leaving.
leaving follows the preposition before.
I enjoy reading
reading is the subject.
I have clothes that need washing.
gerunds often follow after the verbs: Need, require, and want.
Now that you have an idea of what a gerund is, let's take it a step further. Gerund phrases and present participle phrases. These phrases are easy to confuse because they both begin with an -ing word. The difference is that a gerund phrase will always function as a noun while a present participle phrase describes another word in the sentence
Finding a needle in a haystack would be easier than understanding gerunds.
a needle (direct object of action expressed in gerund)
in a haystack (prepositional phrase as adverb)
Finding a few examples, I rushed to write them in my notebook.
A few examples (direct object of action expressed in participle)
Quick way to spot a participle phrase from a gerund phrase is to look for the comma. It should be placed after the phrase.In a gerund phrase, no punctuation is necessary.