Grammar

Gerunds: When a Verb Acts Like a Noun

When does a verb act like a noun?

This may sound like a riddle, but sometimes a verb really does function as a noun in a sentence. This is called a gerund.

Imagine you are using a verb, such as “skate.” When you add “-ing” to it, you get “skating”. Most of the time, this would be used as part of the continuous tense of the verb to show an ongoing action. Consider the following example:

Riku is skating at the new ice rink in our city.

This sentence follows the formula we examined in our previous article about the verb “to be”:

Subject (Riku) + Simple form of “to be” (either past or present; in this case, it is present) + the -ing form of another verb (skating)

However, -ing verbs can also be used to form gerunds. When “skating” is used to refer to the name of a sport, rather than as a specific action, then “skating” functions as a noun. To go back to basic English, a noun is a word for a person, place, or thing, and “skating” can be a thing, as it is here:

Skating is a sport that requires a good sense of balance.

How to tell the difference between a gerund and the continuous tense of a verb

Continuous Tense: The continuous tense, also known as the progressive tense, is used to indicate an action that is ongoing or in progress at a specific time. It combines a form of the verb “to be” with the -ing form of another verb. No matter what form “to be” is used, it comes before the -ing verb in a sentence.

Gerund: A gerund is used when we are referring to activities or actions as a concept, rather than as a specific instance of the action. Gerunds can be used as subjects, objects, or complements in sentences.

If you see an -ing verb in a sentence, here are some ways to tell if it’s a gerund.

  • Is the -ing form of a verb being used as the subject of a sentence? If so, that means you are looking at a gerund. Otherwise, a verb cannot be the subject of a sentence.
  • Do you see a form of the verb “to be”, but it comes after the word ending in -ing? That signals a gerund.
  • Is there a possessive adjective (“my”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “its”, “our”, or “their”) before the -ing verb? If so, that means the -ing verb is functioning as a thing in that sentence. Hence, it is a gerund.

Let’s look at our two “skating” examples again:

Riku is skating at the new ice rink in our city. (This is an ongoing action. The verb “is” means it is happening now and it appears before “skating” in the sentence.)

Skating is a sport that requires a good sense of balance. (This sentence refers to “skating” in general. There is no particular time frame, or any specific action being performed. Also note that “is” comes after “skating” rather than before it.)

Let’s look at some more examples of gerunds…

Here are some additional sentences that include gerunds. In each of the following examples, the gerund is written in boldface type.

Running helps me stay in shape. (This sentence is similar to our earlier “skating” example with the gerund serving as the subject.)

Matthew’s hobby is collecting vintage toys. (Here is an example of a gerund in the middle of a sentence. One way you can tell it’s a gerund is because the verb “is” comes before “collecting”, not after it.)

The music teacher at my school doesn’t like my singing. (Not only is “singing” a thing in this sentence, it is a thing that belongs to someone, as indicated by the possessive adjective “my”.)

Learning English has been a struggle for Rana. (This is another sentence where the gerund serves as the subject.)

I don’t think swimming is safe for toddlers. (Here, “swimming” is a thing, and you could easily substitute it with a noun such as “archery” or “mouthwash” or “spray paint”.)

Until the end of the month, we must remain careful about our spending. (Like the earlier sentence about singing, “spending” is a thing that belongs to the writer plus at least one other person. Hence, the possessive adjective “our”.)

Conclusion

In this article, we looked at how gerunds are used in sentences. We also examined how to tell the difference between a gerund and the continuous tense of a verb. If you are still confused about gerunds, or if you need help using them in your writing, click the blue box below. Helping writers is what our TextRanch editors do!

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