Gerunds in English grammar

Gerunds

People can sometimes get a little confused about what a gerund is and this is perhaps because the same word can be described in different ways.

Look at these sentences. How is the word driving being used in each case?

  • We are driving to Bristol in the morning.
  • We were driving in the rain when the accident happened.
  • I had been driving for about two hours when I decided to stop for a coffee.
  • He will be driving for about six hours a day with that freight company.
  • Driving is something that I have always hated.
  • I loved the holiday but the driving was exhausting.

In the first four sentences, the word driving is a verb used in a range of different tenses. The word driving in those first four sentences is a continuous participle form.

  • Present Continuous tense
  • Past Continuous tense
  • Past Perfect Continuous tense
  • Future continuous tense

However, in the last two sentences, the word driving is not being used to construct a verb tense. It is being used as a noun. In other words, it is a gerund. The writer or speaker is using the word driving to refer to the activity itself.

Have a look at these further examples of -ing words being used as gerunds:

  • Flying is something that I’ve always been afraid of.
  • Cycling is an activity that I’ve always enjoyed.
  • The reading by her brother was definitely the best part of the service.
  • I enjoy gliding but I don’t like parachuting.
  • I was hungry but eating was the last thing on my mind.
  • I saw the danger a warning was impossible.
  • I like writing but I hate proof-reading.
  • Suffering is something we all have to do.

Some verbs commonly are associated with gerunds including:

like, love, hate, enjoy, avoid, detest, finish, begin, imagine, practise, stop, start.

Are the -ing words in the sentences below being used as participles or gerunds?

    • 1. Was she smiling when you saw her?
    • 2. I saw him yesterday and he was working hard.
    • 3. I think that grinning looks rather silly.
    • 4. We saw him standing by the clock-tower.
    • 5. Cooking takes far too much time.
    • 6. She said that sleeping is something we do for a third of our lives.
    • 7. There he was – just lying beside the rusty old car.
    • 8. Do you like working?
    • 9. Crying is something I never do.
    • 10. Cycling is a wonderful sport.

Answers

The following sentences contain gerunds:

3. grinning 5. cooking 6 sleeping 8. working 9. crying 10. cycling