Grammar Quick Bites: Gerunds

Welcome to a new blog post series on tidbits of grammar trivia and terminology. We’ll cover some interesting things you may not have learned in school, or might have forgotten since then.

Today, gerunds!

So what’s a gerund?

It’s a tricky little beastie, a word that’s based on a verb and looks like a verb, but is actually a noun. It’s created using the -ing form of a verb.

For example:

  • Cooking is my favorite hobby.
  • Anna loves hiking.

In these sentences, the gerunds behave like nouns, as the subject of the first sentence and the object of Anna’s adoration.

Sometimes gerunds can form gerund phrases that, when taken as a whole, still behave as a noun.

  • Cooking Italian food is my favorite hobby.
  • Anna loves hiking in the mountains.

The gerund’s cousin, the participle phrase:

Things get slippery when you realize you can have an -ing phrase that isn’t a gerund phrase. In short, if it’s not taking the spot of a noun in the sentence, it’s something else entirely: a participle phrase.

For example:

  • Stretching my arms above my head, I stood.
  • Kevin pointed at the flag flapping in the wind.

In this case, the phrase isn’t a subject or an object. It’s telling us how the speaker is standing. Likewise, the -ing phrase in the second sentence explains how the flag is moving.

How can I tell them apart?

One quick way to test whether it’s a gerund is just to swap out another noun for the -ing word or phrase and see if the sentence still makes sense.

  • Ballet is my favorite hobby.
  • Anna loves dogs.

But it falls apart if you try to switch out a noun for either of the participle phrase examples. You just get word salad.

I hope this helps sort out the sticky situation between gerunds and their participle relatives!

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