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ELC Boston Grammar Lesson – Gerunds February 7th, 2014

Last week’s grammar quiz asked questions about using gerunds. What is a gerund, you ask? A gerund is the –ing form of a verb used as a noun. A gerund can be used just as a noun can, acting as a subject or an object of a verb or preposition. Compare these sentences from our facebook post last week:


Playing basketball is fun.

In this sentence, the word “playing” is being used as the subject of a sentence. The word “playing” is also a gerund in this case.


My friends and I enjoy playing basketball.

In this sentence, the word “playing” is being used as the object of a verb, which is another way that gerunds can be used.


He’s excited about playing basketball.

Here, “playing” is the object of the preposition of “about”. Gerunds very commonly follow prepositions, and there are many rules about which prepositions precede which gerunds, all of which are taught at courses at ELC.


As you can see, there are many different ways to use gerunds in a sentence. Think of them as nouns. When you are saying playing tennis is fun, you are referring to the act of playing tennis, which is a noun. If you say Jim was in the park playing tennis, you are using playing tennis as the verb of the sentence.


In most cases, gerunds and infinitives (to + simple form of the verb. don’t worry, we’ll go over what infinitives are next time) can be used interchangeably. Look at these sentences:


I like reading magazines // I like to read magazines


In these sentences, the meaning is exactly the same. The gerund “reading” and the infinitive “to read” have the same meaning and function in the sentence. When certain words such as “like” are followed by a gerund, the meaning is the same as if they were followed by an infinitive. This is not always the case, however. Look at these sentences:


The students stopped talking when the teacher came into the room // When I saw Molly in the hallway, I stopped to talk to her.


In the first sentence, the students stopped the action of talking at a certain point, when the teacher came into the room. This sentence uses a gerund, “talking” following the word “stopped” as an object of the sentence to say that an action ended at a specific point. In the second sentence, the infinitive “to talk” follows the word “stopped”, and the meaning changes. In this sentence, the subject stopped walking for the purpose of talking to Molly. This is what we call an infinitive of purpose, and as you can see, the meaning is slightly different than that of a gerund. Other words that change in meaning when followed by a gerund or an infinitive are  remember, forget, regret, try and of course, stop.


In our next grammar lesson, we will focus on infinitives, and the similarities and differences they share with gerunds.