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A gerund is a verbal; that is, a word form derived from a verb. Even though they are derived from verbs, verbals perform grammatical functions that real verbs cannot. Gerunds are verbals that act as nouns.
- Moving to a new city is always stressful.
- I enjoy listening to music and reading books.
- Mentioning this to Barbara would be a big mistake.
Gerunds look identical to present participles (base form of verb + –ing), but they do not act like present participles. In the first sentence, the gerund moving is acting as the noun subject of the sentence.
- Moving is stressful.
- subject (noun) linking verb complement (adjective)
In the second sentence, the gerunds listening and reading are direct objects of the verb enjoy.
Gerunds are often part of phrases. Moving to a new city includes the gerund and a prepositional phrase modifying it, but grammatically, it is one unit in the sentence, acting as a subject.
Gray Area: Possessives with Gerunds
English speakers and writers sometimes puzzle over what to do with nouns or pronouns that come before gerunds.
- Informal: I appreciated Jane helping us clean up the mess. (noun)
- More acceptable: I appreciated Jane’s helping us clean up the mess. (possessive noun)
- Informal: Ron’s parents did not approve of him getting married. (personal pronoun)
- More acceptable: Ron’s parents did not approve of his getting married. (possessive adjective)
Although the noun/pronoun + gerund combination is not uncommon and would make sense to most English speakers, editors and writing teachers generally recommend using a possessive before a gerund.