What are gerunds, participles and infinitives

Gerunds, Participles and Infinitives

In English grammar, there are words that are derived from verbs; however, they do not function as verbs. They function as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns instead. Such words are called verbals. There are three types of verbals: gerunds, participles (when used as adjectives) and infinitives. Most non-finite verbs in English are verbals.

1. What are gerunds?

Definition: A gerund is a verb form that ends in "-ing", and functions as a noun. Therefore, gerunds are words that are formed with verbs; however, they act as nouns. For example, the gerund form of the verb "read" is "reading".

2. How to use gerunds?

A gerund can be used as a subject, a direct object, a complement, or an object of a preposition.

Gerunds can be used in 4 different ways as described here

2.1 Gerund as a Subject:

In English grammar, the part of a sentence, or clause, that tells what the sentence is about, or who or what performs the action, is called the subject of the sentence. In each of the following examples, a gerund represents what the sentence is about.

Please note that all example sentences listed below are declarative sentences. In a declarative sentence, the subject usually appears before the verb. In the following examples gerunds appear before the linking verb: "is".

  • Walking is good for your health.

  • Learning is very important.

  • Cooking is a good hobby.

  • Swimming is a good exercise.

  • Reading is an excellent habit.

  • Singing is my favourite pastime.

  • Dancing is good for you.

In the example above, "Dancing" is the subject of the verb "is".

2.2 Gerund as an Object:

In English grammar, an object can be a noun, a noun phrase or a pronoun that is affected by the action of, or governed by, a verb. Objects provide detail to the sentence and help in forming complex sentences. Objects normally follow the verb in a clause.

In the examples below, the gerunds act as an object, and follow the main verb in the sentence.

  • She likes singing.

  • I enjoy swimming.

  • She does not like knitting.

  • They practised dancing.

  • John really likes teaching.

In the example above, "teaching" is the direct object of the verb "likes".

2.3 Gerund as a complement:

A gerund is a verb that acts as a noun and refers to an action or a state. When gerund is a noun, it can be the complement of the action described by the verb. We can use gerund as the complement of the sentence.

In the examples below, the gerunds act as a compliment of the sentence.

  • My favourite hobby is running.

  • The most important thing is listening.

  • A good career for me might be teaching.

2.4 Gerund as an Object of Preposition:

The object of a preposition is a noun or a pronoun that follows a preposition and provides meaning to it. Without its object, the preposition will not be complete.

In each of the examples below, the preposition is followed by its object, which in this case is a gerund.

  • She bought new shoes for running.

  • Molly ate some cake before leaving.

  • Lily is good at singing.

In the example above, "singing" is the object of the preposition "at".

3. What is a Gerund Phrase?

A gerund phrase is a phrase that starts with a gerund. A gerund phrase always has a gerund, its object, and any modifiers. The entire phrase functions as a noun. Just like a gerund, a gerund phrase can act as a subject, an object, or a complement.

  • We love going to the movies.

  • My favourite pastime is watching T.V.

  • I enjoy playing with my sister.

  • I began learning English.

  • I understand her quitting.

  • They risked being caught.

  • He misses living near the beach.

  • She postponed returning to Berlin.

  • She encourages eating healthy snacks.

  • Do you mind waiting here for a few minutes?

  • She finished doing her homework.

  • I don’t mind helping you.

  • The lawyer defended him making such statements.

  • Reading funny stories is my favourite activity.

In the example above, the gerund phrase "Reading funny stories" is acting as the subject in the sentence.

There are some verbs that are commonly followed by a gerund. We have used a few in the examples above. The following is a list of some more examples of such verbs:

  • Admit
  • Advise
  • Acknowledge
  • Avoid
  • Begin
  • Complete
  • Consider
  • Delay
  • Deny
  • Discuss
  • Dislike
  • Enjoy
  • Finish
  • Forget
  • Intend
  • Involve
  • Justify
  • Keep
  • Like
  • Mention
  • Mind
  • Miss
  • Postpone
  • Practice
  • Prefer
  • Quit
  • Recall
  • Recommend
  • Resist
  • Risk
  • Start
  • Stop
  • Suggest

4. What are Participles?

Definition: A participle is a form of a verb that can be used as an adjective. It is also used in the formation of verb tenses and passive voice. It is important to note that, just like gerunds, participles are derived from verbs. However, while gerunds act as nouns, participles are either used as adjectives, or used to construct verb tenses.

Following are the two types of participles:

  • Present participles: end in "-ing".

  • Past participles: usually end in "-ed", "-en", "-d", "-t" or "-n".

5. How to use participles?

5.1 Participles as an adjective:

Adjectives are words that help describe qualities or quantities, of nouns or pronouns. When participles are acting as an adjective, they are followed immediately by the noun or pronoun they are describing or modifying. This rule applies to both present and past participles.

Present Participle:

  • Laughing baby

  • Jumping cat

  • Flowering tree

  • Shining star

  • Working people

Past Participle:

  • Tired man

  • Boiled Potato

  • Cooked food

  • Closed window

6. Participles used in verb tenses:

Participles are also used to form a verb tense. A verb tense refers to when the action in a sentence takes place. Using the correct verb tense is important because it tells the reader whether the action happened in the past, is happening in the present, or will happen in the future. Most commonly, verbs take a past, present, or future tense.

Present Participle:

  • I am eating.

  • I was eating.

  • I have been eating.

  • I will be eating.

  • I will have been eating.

Past Participle:

  • I have completed my homework.

  • I had completed my homework.

  • I will have completed my homework.

7. Difference between gerunds and participles

It is easy to make a mistake when identifying an otherwise similar looking word as a gerund or present participle because they are spelt in the same way.

For example, the word "singing" can be a gerund, or the present participle form of the verb "sing", depending on the role it plays in a sentence. If it is used as a noun, then it is a gerund; otherwise, if it is used as an adjective, or used in forming present tense, then it is a present participle. Same is true for other similar words such as "swimming", "dancing" etc.

Word singing can be used as a gerund and present participle

Here are three more examples:

Example 1.

Gerund: "Running is my favorite form of exercise."

Explanation: In this sentence, "running" functions as a gerund, which is a verb form that acts as a noun. Here, "running" is the subject of the sentence, indicating that the act of running is the speaker's preferred exercise.

Participle: "The running water made a soothing sound."

Explanation: In this sentence, "running" functions as a participle, which is a verb form that acts as an adjective. Here, "running" describes the water, indicating that the water is in the state of running or flowing. It modifies the noun "water."

Example 2.

Gerund: "I enjoy singing in the shower."

Explanation: In this sentence, "singing" functions as a gerund. It acts as the object of the verb "enjoy" and represents the action of singing. The gerund form "singing" acts as a noun, indicating the activity that the speaker enjoys.

Participle: "The singing bird perched on the branch."

Explanation: In this sentence, "singing" functions as a participle. It describes the bird, indicating that the bird is engaged in the act of singing. The participle form "singing" acts as an adjective, providing additional information about the bird.

Example 3.

Gerund: "Dancing requires discipline and practice."

Explanation: In this sentence, "dancing" functions as a gerund. It is the subject of the sentence and represents the activity of dancing. The gerund form "dancing" acts as a noun, highlighting the requirements and characteristics associated with the activity.

Participle: "The dancing flames illuminated the room."

Explanation: In this sentence, "dancing" functions as a participle. It describes the flames, indicating that the flames are in a state of dancing or moving rapidly. The participle form "dancing" acts as an adjective, providing a vivid description of the flames.

8. What are Infinitives?

Definition: An infinitive is the base form of a verb with the word "to". It may function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. It is usually made up of two words: "to" + the base for of a verb.

Using infinitives as nouns:

  • To dance is fun.

    In this example, the infinitive “to dance” is acting as the subject of the sentence. This means the infinitive functions as a noun in this sentence.

  • To learn is very important.

  • I like to read.

    In this example, the infinitive “to read” is acting as the direct object of the sentence.

  • I want to play in the garden.

Using infinitives as adjectives:

  • I have a story to write.

  • He has some work to do.

  • That is the best place to visit this summer.

These are some common verbs followed by infinitives. Here is a list of common verbs that are followed by infinitives:

  • agree
  • appear
  • arrange
  • ask
  • attempt
  • can/can’t afford
  • can/can’t wait
  • care
  • chance
  • choose
  • claim
  • come
  • dare
  • decide
  • demand
  • deserve
  • expect
  • fail
  • get
  • hesitate
  • hope
  • hurry
  • learn
  • manage
  • mean
  • need
  • offer
  • pay
  • plan
  • prepare
  • pretend
  • promise
  • prove
  • refuse
  • request
  • say
  • seek
  • seem
  • struggle
  • swear
  • tend
  • turn out
  • wait
  • want
  • wish
  • would like

Example sentences of common verbs followed by infinitives:

  • I hope to see you next week.

  • We planned to take a holiday.

  • She claimed to be an expert.

  • He decided to stay at home.

  • We managed to reach the top of the mountain.

  • Would you care to swim?

  • He wanted the children to learn the guitar.

  • He appeared to be lost.

  • They wouldn’t let me stay out late.

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