What is a Gerund and a Gerund Phrase?

I know that most people don’t like using fancy grammar words like “gerund”, but sometimes it is necessary to help us understand how to form sentences. In this article, I would like to help you understand what a gerund is and how to use it.

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Gerunds definition

Basically a gerund is a verb that is pretending to not be a verb. They rather act as nouns (things) instead of describing actions. Now, they can be used as subjects or objects.

Here are some examples of gerunds in action:

Susan likes running.

Ben often goes swimming.

How to form a gerund

Can you notice a similarity between the words in bold in the two sentences in the previous section?

In both cases there is “-ing” added to the end of the base form of the verb (the base form of the verb is the one that you will find in a dictionary).

This is something that is really important to notice. All gerunds is the base form of a verb + “-ing”.

Now is when it might become a bit confusing, because we use the base form of the verb + “-ing” in the present progressive too. Does that mean that a gerund is always in the present progressive? Or is the present progressive always using gerunds?

No, to both of these questions.

Gerund vs present participle

In the present progressive we use the present participle. This form of the verb, looks like a gerund and is the base form of the verb + “-ing”. They are spelled the same, but they do different things in a sentence.

You can know that it is a present participle if you are in the present progressive and it acts like a verb by describing an action.

But when the verb + “-ing” acts as a noun, it is a gerund.

Technically, this means that a gerund is a persent participle acting like a noun.

Gerund phrases

Okay, now we get to the good stuff.

A gerund phrase does the same thing as a gerund. It plays dress-up and acts as a noun. The only difference is that gerund phases, as the name suggests, don’t consist of just one word. They include a gerund as well as an object and or modifier (such as an adverb).

Here is an example with a sentence containing just a gerund:

Eating too much is not healthy.

Now, we can add an object to make the gerund a gerund phrase:

Eating food is crucial for survival.

Lastly, we can add a modifier to the phrase as well. Here is an example:

Eating food hurriedly is not good for you.

You might have noticed that the gerund is first in all the gerund phrases above. This is something really important to remember.

Something else that you might have picked up, is that they are all the subject of the sentences. This is not necessary. As I have mentioned earlier they can also be used as objects.

The different roles of gerunds and gerund phrases

Here are examples of gerunds and gerund phrases (from now on I’ll just use the term “gerund” to refer to both of these) being used in each of the following roles in a sentence:

  • Subject
  • Subject complement
  • Direct object
  • Indirect object
  • Object of the preposition


The subject is the person or thing in the sentence doing the action.

Reading is fun.

Running fast is tiring.

Subject complement

A subject complement gives more information about the subject. The fancy grammar term for this is the predicate nominative.

My favourite thing to do is reading books.

Direct object

The direct object of a sentence is the one receiving the action.

Mary likes baking.

Indirect object

The indirect object is the one for whom the action is done. They are the receiver of the direct object.

Annie gave eating healthy a shot.

Object of the preposition

This is the easy object to spot. Basically it is the one after a preposition that completes the meaning of the preposition. Like this:

You will get far in life by reading often.

Using them with pronouns

Like with other nouns, we can substitute these words with pronouns. More specifically, we can substitute or refer to them with it. Here are some examples:

Mary likes running. It helps her to cope with her stress.

The children prefers doing their homework soon after school then they can forget about it.


Like you saw in the previous section, we can substitute a gerund with the pronoun “it”. This also indicates that we will treat them as singular nouns in sentences. Take a look at these examples:

I thing that playing tennis is fun.

Walking to school lets me appreciate the fresh air.

Final thoughts

Although we do not always want to use these fancy grammar terms, they help us to understand how to make sentences so we can speak correctly.


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