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Term Definition

A gerund is a term for a verb form that functions as a noun. In English, the term has been applied to -ing forms in certain uses. Traditional grammar made a distinction within -ing forms between present participles and gerunds, a distinction that is not observed in such modern linguistically-informed grammars.

What is a gerund?

So, if you're reading this, then you probably want to know what a gerund is. 

We can definitely help you with that. The purpose of this glossary entry is to help you become a more successful writer and student—and that includes understanding the nature of the gerund. 

The gerund is a verb that is turned into a noun by adding "-ing" to the end of it

For example, if you say that "I enjoy swimming", the swimming is a noun formed from the root verb swim. 

It is important to know that the gerund is not the same thing as the progressive verb form (for example "I was swimming"). 

How to use gerunds in sentences

Here is an example of the gerund being used correctly in a sentence. 

"His favorite hobby is reading, and this has been true ever since he was a small child; this is probably why school is easy for him today."

In this sentence reading is a gerund that is being used in a correct way. 

Now, here is an example of the gerund being used incorrectly in a sentence. 

"He was reading a long Russian novel when he was suddenly interrupted by hard knocking on his back door."

In this sentence, "reading" is actually not a gerund but rather the past progressive form. 

In case you are still a little confused about the nature of the gerund, here are a couple rules that may be able to improve your understanding of the concept. 

1. Essentially, the gerund is a noun that is formed by understanding a certain action as an activity, per se. For example, "to read" is a verb, but "reading" is a gerund, because it signifies the activity of reading. The gerund always ends with "-ing", but it is thus not a verb. 

2. You can also figure out whether a word is a gerund by looking at the role the word fulfills within the context of the sentence as a whole. For example, "Eating is his favorite activity" has the same structure as "Pasta is his favorite food"; this indicates that eating, like pasta, is a noun—which would make it a gerund. 

Further reading - Discussion and usage

The gerund can be a little confusing at first due to the fact that it is a noun that looks like a verb. Again, this is due to the simple reason that the "-ing" form of the verb is itself treated as signifying not so much an action as an activity; not so much the act itself as the "event" of doing it, where the event itself counts as a thing (or noun). For example, "drinking" is a gerund if you're not talking about the actual action of drinking at some point in time, but just the more general event, situation, or activity of drinking. Whether a word is a gerund or a progressive verb thus depends primarily on how the word is being used. 

For the sake of clarity: the progressive tense refers to when the "-ing" form of a verb is actually being used as a verb and not as a noun. The progressive tenses are generally used in order to convey an action that is occurring across a period of time or duration. The progressive is a specific conjugation of verbs; it does not turn verbs into nouns. On the other hand, the gerund looks exactly like the progressive, but it turns the verb into a noun. Again, you can tell whether a word is a gerund primarily by paying attention to how it is used within a given sentence. 

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Synonyms: gerund

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