A gerund is a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. The term verbal indicates that a gerund, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since a gerund functions as a noun, it occupies some positions in a sentence that a noun ordinarily would, for example: subject, direct object, subject complement, and object of preposition.
Gerund as subject:
- Traveling might satisfy your desire for new experiences. (Traveling is the gerund.)
- The study abroad program might satisfy your desire for new experiences. (The gerund has been removed.)
Gerund as direct object:
- They do not appreciate my singing. (The gerund is singing.)
- They do not appreciate my assistance. (The gerund has been removed)
Gerund as subject complement:
- My cat's favorite activity is sleeping. (The gerund is sleeping.)
- My cat's favorite food is salmon. (The gerund has been removed.)
Gerund as object of preposition:
- The police arrested him for speeding. (The gerund is speeding.)
- The police arrested him for criminal activity. (The gerund has been removed.)
A gerund phrase is a group of words consisting of a gerund and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the gerund, such as:
The gerund phrase functions as the subject of the sentence.
a needle (direct object of action expressed in gerund)
in a haystack (prepositional phrase as adverb)
The gerund phrase functions as the direct object of the verb appreciate.
my (possessive pronoun adjective form, modifying the gerund)
you (indirect object of action expressed in gerund)
this opportunity (direct object of action expressed in gerund)
The gerund phrase functions as the subject complement.
jabbering away to (gerund)
his constituents (direct object of action expressed in gerund)
The gerund phrase functions as the object of the preposition for.
an illness (direct object of action expressed in gerund)
to avoid work (infinitive phrase as adverb)
The gerund phrase functions as the subject of the sentence.
the boss (subject complement for Jeff, via state of being expressed in gerund)
A gerund virtually never requires any punctuation with it.
Points to remember:
- A gerund is a verbal ending in -ing that is used as a noun.
- A gerund phrase consists of a gerund plus modifier(s), object(s), and/or complement(s).
- Gerunds and gerund phrases virtually never require punctuation.
A participle is a verbal that is used as an adjective and most often ends in -ing or -ed. The term verbal indicates that a participle, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since they function as adjectives, participles modify nouns or pronouns. There are two types of participles: present participles and past participles. Present participles end in -ing. Past participles end in -ed, -en, -d, -t, -n, or -ne as in the words asked, eaten, saved, dealt, seen, and gone.
- The crying baby had a wet diaper.
- Shaken, he walked away from the wrecked car.
- The burning log fell off the fire.
- Smiling, she hugged the panting dog.
A participial phrase is a group of words consisting of a participle and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the participle, such as:
The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying Jack.
his coat (direct object of action expressed in participle)
The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying cousin.
along the shoreline (prepositional phrase as adverb)
The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying children.
interested (in) (participle)
music (direct object of action expressed in participle)
The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying Lynn.
Having been (participle)
a gymnast (subject complement for Lynn, via state of being expressed in participle)
Placement: In order to prevent confusion, a participial phrase must be placed as close to the noun it modifies as possible, and the noun must be clearly stated.
- Carrying a heavy pile of books, his foot caught on a step. *
- Carrying a heavy pile of books, he caught his foot on a step.
In the first sentence there is no clear indication of who or what is performing the action expressed in the participle carrying. Certainly foot can't be logically understood to function in this way. This situation is an example of a dangling modifier error since the modifier (the participial phrase) is not modifying any specific noun in the sentence and is thus left "dangling." Since a person must be doing the carrying for the sentence to make sense, a noun or pronoun that refers to a person must be in the place immediately after the participial phrase, as in the second sentence.
Punctuation: When a participial phrase begins a sentence, a comma should be placed after the phrase.
- Arriving at the store, I found that it was closed.
- Washing and polishing the car, Frank developed sore muscles.
If the participle or participial phrase comes in the middle of a sentence, it should be set off with commas only if the information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
- Sid, watching an old movie, drifted in and out of sleep.
- The church, destroyed by a fire, was never rebuilt.
Note that if the participial phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence, no commas should be used:
- The student earning the highest grade point average will receive a special award.
- The guy wearing the chicken costume is my cousin.
If a participial phrase comes at the end of a sentence, a comma usually precedes the phrase if it modifies an earlier word in the sentence but not if the phrase directly follows the word it modifies.
- The local residents often saw Ken wandering through the streets.
(The phrase modifies Ken, not residents.)
- Tom nervously watched the woman, alarmed by her silence.
(The phrase modifies Tom, not woman.)
Points to remember
- A participle is a verbal ending in -ing (present) or -ed, -en, -d, -t, -n, or -ne (past) that functions as an adjective, modifying a noun or pronoun.
- A participial phrase consists of a participle plus modifier(s), object(s), and/or complement(s).
- Participles and participial phrases must be placed as close to the nouns or pronouns they modify as possible, and those nouns or pronouns must be clearly stated.
- A participial phrase is set off with commas when it:
- a) comes at the beginning of a sentence
- b) interrupts a sentence as a nonessential element
- c) comes at the end of a sentence and is separated from the word it modifies.
An infinitive is a verbal consisting of the word to plus a verb (in its simplest "stem" form) and functioning as a noun, adjective, or adverb. The term verbal indicates that an infinitive, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, the infinitive may function as a subject, direct object, subject complement, adjective, or adverb in a sentence. Although an infinitive is easy to locate because of the to + verb form, deciding what function it has in a sentence can sometimes be confusing.
- To wait seemed foolish when decisive action was required. (subject)
- Everyone wanted to go. (direct object)
- His ambition is to fly. (subject complement)
- He lacked the strength to resist. (adjective)
- We must study to learn. (adverb)
Be sure not to confuse an infinitive—a verbal consisting of to plus a verb—with a prepositional phrase beginning with to, which consists of to plus a noun or pronoun and any modifiers.
- Infinitives: to fly, to draw, to become, to enter, to stand, to catch, to belong
- Prepositional Phrases: to him, to the committee, to my house, to the mountains, to us, to this address
An Infinitive Phrase is a group of words consisting of an infinitive and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the actor(s), direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the infinitive, such as:
The infinitive phrase functions as the direct object of the verb intended.
to leave (infinitive)
The infinitive phrase functions as an adjective modifying paper.
to write (infinitive)
before class (prepositional phrase as adverb)
The infinitive phrase functions as the direct object of the verb agreed.
to give (infinitive)
me (indirect object of action expressed in infinitive)
a ride (direct object of action expressed in infinitive)
The infinitive phrase functions as the direct object of the verb asked.
me (actor or "subject" of infinitive phrase)
to bring (infinitive)
some food (direct object of action expressed in infinitive)
The infinitive phrase functions as the direct object of the verb wanted.
Carol (actor or "subject" of infinitive phrase)
to be (infinitive)
the captain (subject complement for Carol, via state of being expressed in infinitive)
of the team (prepositional phrase as adjective)
Actors: In these last two examples the actor of the infinitive phrase could be roughly characterized as the "subject" of the action or state expressed in the infinitive. It is somewhat misleading to use the word subject, however, since an infinitive phrase is not a full clause with a subject and a finite verb. Also notice that when it is a pronoun, the actor appears in the objective case (me, not I, in the fourth example). Certain verbs, when they take an infinitive direct object, require an actor for the infinitive phrase; others can't have an actor. Still other verbs can go either way, as the charts below illustrate.
Verbs that take infinitive objects without actors:
- Most students plan to study.
- We began to learn.
- They offered to pay.
- They neglected to pay.
- She promised to return.
In all of these examples no actor can come between the italicized main (finite) verb and the infinitive direct-object phrase.
Verbs that take infinitive objects with actors:
- He reminded me to buy milk.
- Their fathers advise them to study.
- She forced the defendant to admit the truth.
- You've convinced the director of the program to change her position.
- I invite you to consider the evidence.
In all of these examples an actor is required after the italicized main (finite) verb and before the infinitive direct-object phrase.
Verbs that use either pattern:
- I asked to see the records.
- I asked him to show me the records.
- Trent expected his group to win.
- Trent expected to win.
- Brenda likes to drive fast.
- Brenda likes her friend to drive fast.
In all of these examples the italicized main verb can take an infinitive object with or without an actor.
Punctuation: If the infinitive is used as an adverb and is the beginning phrase in a sentence, it should be set off with a comma; otherwise, no punctuation is needed for an infinitive phrase.
- To buy a basket of flowers, John had to spend his last dollar.
- To improve your writing, you must consider your purpose and audience.
Points to remember
- An infinitive is a verbal consisting of the word to plus a verb; it may be used as a noun, adjective, or adverb.
- An infinitive phrase consists of an infinitive plus modifier(s), object(s), complement(s), and/or actor(s).
- An infinitive phrase requires a comma only if it is used as an adverb at the beginning of a sentence.
Split infinitives occur when additional words are included between to and the verb in an infinitive. Many readers find a single adverb splitting the infinitive to be acceptable, but this practice should be avoided in formal writing.
- I like to on a nice day walk in the woods. * (unacceptable)
On a nice day, I like to walk in the woods. (revised)
- I needed to quickly gather my personal possessions. (acceptable in informal contexts)
I needed to gather my personal possessions quickly. (revised for formal contexts)
Comparing Gerunds, Participles, and Infinitives
Comparing Gerunds and Participles
Look at the following pair of sentences. In the first, the use of a gerund (functioning as a noun) allows the meaning to be expressed more precisely than in the second. In the first sentence the interrupting itself, a specific behavior, is precisely indicated as the cause of the speaker's irritation. In the second the cause of the irritation is identified less precisely as Bill, who just happens to have been interrupting. (In the second sentence, interrupting is actually a participle, not a gerund, since it functions as an adjective modifying Bill.)
I was irritated by Bill's constant interrupting.
I was irritated by Bill, constantly interrupting.
The same pattern is shown in these other example pairs below: in the first of each pair, a gerund (noun-function) is used; in the second, a participle (adjective-function). Notice the subtle change in meaning between the two sentences in each pair.
The guitarist's finger-picking was extraordinary.
(The technique was extraordinary.)
The guitarist, finger-picking, was extraordinary.
(The person was extraordinary, demonstrating the technique.)
He was not impressed with their competing.
(The competing did not impress him.)
He was not impressed with them competing.
(They did not impress him as they competed.)
Grandpa enjoyed his grandchildren's running and laughing.
Grandpa enjoyed his grandchildren, running and laughing.* (Ambiguous: who is running and laughing?)
Comparing Gerunds and Infinitives
The difference in the form of gerunds and infinitives is quite clear just from comparing the following lists:
- Gerunds: swimming, hoping, telling, eating, dreaming
- Infinitives: to swim, to hope, to tell, to eat, to dream
Their functions, however, overlap. Gerunds always function as nouns, but infinitives often also serve as nouns. Deciding which to use can be confusing in many situations, especially for people whose first language is not English.
Confusion between gerunds and infinitives occurs primarily in cases in which one or the other functions as the direct object in a sentence. In English some verbs take gerunds as verbal direct objects exclusively while other verbs take only infinitives and still others can take either. Many such verbs are listed below, organized according to which kind of verbal direct object they take.
Verbs that take only infinitives as verbal direct objects
I hope to go on a vacation soon.
(not: I hope going on a vacation soon.*)
He promised to go on a diet.
(not: He promised going on a diet. *)
They agreed to sign the treaty.
(not: They agreed signing the treaty.*)
Because she was nervous, she hesitated to speak.
(not: Because she was nervous, she hesitated speaking.*)
They will attempt to resuscitate the victim
(not: They will attempt resuscitating the victim.*)
Verbs that take only gerunds as verbal direct objects
|can't help||keep||give up||be fond of|
|get/be through||get/be tired of||get/be accustomed to||get/be used to|
They always avoid drinking before driving.
(not: They always avoid to drink before driving.*)
I recall asking her that question.
(not: I recall to ask her that question.*)
She put off buying a new jacket.
(not: She put off to buy a new jacket.*)
Mr. Allen enjoys cooking.
(not: Mr. Allen enjoys to cook.*)
Charles keeps calling her.
(not: Charles keeps to call her.*)
Verbs that take gerunds or infinitives as verbal direct objects
She has continued to work at the store.
She has continued working at the store.
They like to go to the movies.
They like going to the movies.
Brent started to walk home.
Brent started walking home.
Forget and remember
These two verbs change meaning depending on whether a gerund or infinitive is used as the object.
Jack forgets to take out the cat.
(He regularly forgets.)
Jack forgets taking out the cat.
(He did it, but he doesn't remember now.)
Jack forgot to take out the cat.
(He never did it.)
Jack forgot taking out the cat.
(He did it, but he didn't remember sometime later.)
Jack remembers to take out the cat.
(He regularly remembers.)
Jack remembers taking out the cat.
(He did it, and he remembers now.)
Jack remembered to take out the cat.
(He did it.)
Jack remembered taking out the cat.
(He did it, and he remembered sometime later.)
In the second of each pair of example sentences above, the past progressive gerund form having taken can be used in place of taking to avoid any possible confusion.
Sense verbs that take an object plus a gerund or a simple verb
Certain sense verbs take an object followed by either a gerund or a simple verb (infinitive form minus the word to). With many of the verbs that follow the object, the use of the gerund indicates continuous action while the use of the simple verb indicates a one-time action. Still, sometimes the simple verb can indicate continuous action if one-time action wouldn't make sense in the context.
We watched him playing basketball. (continuous action)
We watched him play basketball. (continuous action)
I felt my heart pumping vigorously. (continuous action)
I felt my heart pump vigorously. (continuous action)
She saw them jumping on the bed. (continuous action)
She saw them jump on the bed. (one-time action)
Tom heard the victim shouting for help. (continuous action)
Tom heard the victim shout for help. (one-time action)
The detective noticed the suspect biting his nails. (continuous action)
The detective noticed the suspect bite his nails. (one-time action)
We could smell the pie baking in the kitchen. (continuous action)
We could smell the pie bake in the kitchen. (continuous action)
Sometimes the simple-verb version might seem unconventional, so it's safer in most cases to use the gerund version.