Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2012. Do not copy without permission.
Gerund Gymnastics

As discussed in previous blogs on participles, a gerund is a verb form that ends in ing. What differentiates a gerund from a present participle is that the verb form acts as a noun when it’s a gerund. So you might say:

            He sings.

            They skate.

           The quick brown fox barked at intruders.


There were no gerunds there, just simple verbs. You can use this funny verb/noun thing that’s a gerund to change the focus of the sentence, like this:

           He is singing.

            They go skating.

           The quick brown fox was barking.


(Did you know that a group of foxes is called a skulk? Add that to your list of group names, those of you who were playing along last autumn with the thesaurus game. But I digress.)


The difference between this batch and the first batch of sentences is passive voice. In the first batch, the verb acts on the noun: he sings, they skate, the fox barked. In the second batch, the verb still acts on the noun but the verb has changed (he is, they go, the fox was), and now there’s a noun in the predicate: singing, skating, barking, Some folks consider this verb form to be a “complement” to the verb “to be.” That just means that the gerund provides that action instead of the verb.


Gerunds can act like nouns in several ways. They can be the subject of the sentence and the subject of the verb.

            Singing is fun.

           Skating can make you laugh.

            Barking is how the fox warns off predators.


Gerunds can also be the object of a preposition. In fact, a verb following a preposition must be a gerund.

           His Tuesday evenings were spent by singing with friends.

            They were buoyed by their love of skating.

            The fox warns off predators by barking.


You’ll find this usage popular after expressions like “there’s no point in,” “in spite of,” “look forward to,” and so forth.


You can modify a gerund, just like you can modify any other noun, with an adverb or an adjective.

           He enjoyed singing loudly.

            His loud singing woke the neighbor.

           They were skating enthusiastically.

            Their enthusiastic skating involved lots of falling down.

            The fox was angrily barking at intruders.

            The fox’s angry barking frightened intruders.


You’ll also find gerunds as part of compound nouns, like these:

            His singing voice was interesting.

            The skating people raced to the center of the rink.

            The barking fox warned off predators.


In those cases, you could leave the gerund out and still have a viable sentence. The gerund in these instances functions as an adjectival modifier to the noun.


Here’s a review: