1. What is a Gerund Phrase?
A gerund phrase is a phrase that begins with a gerund, and functions as a noun. Let’s break down this definition to understand it better. A gerund is a verb ending with –ing, but, it works as a noun and can act as a subject, object, or complement in a sentence. Meanwhile, a phrase is a group of words that contains either a subject (noun) or a verb — but not both. So together, a gerund phrase can also act as a subject, object, or complement, while adding more details to the sentence.
2. Examples of Gerund Phrases
Running for president is a serious ambition.
This gerund phrase is the subject of the sentence; it is what the sentence is about.
Eating small meals throughout the day can help you avoid hunger pains.
This gerund phrase is also the subject of the sentence.
A serious danger to motorists is driving under the influence.
The gerund phrase here is a complement to the subject (danger); it re-states what the subject is, and adds information. (See part IV for more information on complements.)
I like fishing with lures.
Here we have a gerund phrase working as a direct object. It is the thing receiving the action of the verb ‘like’. (See section 4 for more information on objects.)
3. Parts of a Gerund Phrase
As we saw in section 1, a gerund phrase has two parts: the gerund, and the phrase.
A gerund looks just like an –ing verb, but it is NOT being used in the sentence as an action word. Instead, it is being used as a noun. The best way to understand the difference between regular –ing verbs and gerunds, is to look at the same word being used in both ways.
Example 1: swimming
The fish were swimming in the pond.
In this sentence, swimming is a verb because it is the action that the subject (fish) takes.
Swimming is my favorite exercise.
In this sentence, swimming is a gerund because it is the subject – the thing that the sentence is about.
Example 2: texting
Peter is texting with Kevin.
Here, texting is a verb because it is the action that the subject (Peter) is doing.
Most teenagers love texting.
In this sentence, texting is a gerund. It is the object of the verb ‘love’.
The second part of a gerund phrase is the phrase. Remember, a phrase is a group of words that work together, and have only a subject (noun) or a verb – not both. Often, a gerund phrase includes a preposition (like at, for, in, etc.).
Dogs enjoy barking at strangers.
In this sentence, the two parts of the gerund phrase are (a) the gerund ‘barking’, and (b) the phrase ‘at strangers’.
4. Types of gerund phrases
A gerund phrase always works as a noun; therefore, the types of gerund phrases match the ways that a noun can be used (as a subject, object, or complement).
a. Gerund Phrase as Subject
Eating after midnight is a bad habit.
In this example, the sentence is about ‘eating after midnight’, and so this gerund phrase acts as the subject of the sentence.
Riding my bike around town is my favorite hobby.
This sentence is about ‘riding my bike around town’, which makes the gerund phrase the subject of the sentence.
b. Gerund phrase as object
Objects are words that ‘receive’ another part of a sentence. Gerund phrases can be one of two types of objects.
- Direct objects – receive the action of the verb.
- Objects of prepositions – receive prepositions.
Kobe’s teammate tried setting a pick for him.
In this sentence, ‘setting a pick for him’ is the direct object of the verb ‘tried’; it is receiving the action of ‘tried’.
Janice got a ticket for running a red light.
Here, the gerund phrase ‘running a red light’ is the object of the preposition ‘for’.
c. Gerund Phrase as Complement
A complement re-states or gives more information about a noun. It always follows a state-of-being verb (is, are, am, will be, was, were).
Pablo’s favorite hobby is playing the piano.
‘Playing the piano’ re-states what Pablo’s hobby is, and gives us more information about it. Therefore, it is a gerund phrase acting as the complement to ‘hobby’
Competition is trying to do better than your opponent.
The gerund phrase in this example is re-stating what competition is, and so it is the complement of ‘competition’.
5. How to write gerund phrases
Writing a gerund phrase requires you to think of a verb as a ‘thing’, not the action that is being done in the sentence. A sentence needs to have a verb to go along with the subject, but the gerund cannot be the verb of a clause, and so it cannot be the verb of your sentence. Basically, a gerund phrase is about an action, not an actual action.
Recharging the battery.
The above phrase is a gerund phrase, but it does not make a complete sentence. There is no clear subject or verb.
Have you tried recharging the battery?
This is an example of a correctly used gerund phrase. The subject of the sentence is ‘you’, and the verb is ‘tried’. The gerund phrase is acting as the direct object of the verb ‘tried’.
The charger is recharging the phone.
This is a proper sentence, but ‘recharging’ is the action verb of the sentence. It is the action that the charger (the subject) is taking. There is no gerund phrase in this sentence.