Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 90: A Noun in Verb's Clothing

Today on Grammar Grater, we'll be talking about a tricky thing verbs do: they can become gerunds. According to Grammar: A Student's Guide by James R. Hurford, a gerund "is a form of a verb used as a noun. As such, it functions as a subject or object of a clause, and acts as the head of a noun phrase. In English, a gerund ends in the suffix -ing."

For example:
Frank is experienced in selling.

In this case, selling is a gerund — that is, it's acting as a noun. So selling here refers to Frank's career in the field of sales. Compare that to this:
Frank is selling refrigerators.

In this case, selling is a verb, and its form is what's called a present participle because it describes an action in action. The present participle follows a form of the verb to be, as in these examples:
Phil is washing dishes.
Frank has been running six days a week.
Mike will be travelling to New York later this afternoon.
Cathy was writing a letter to her mother.

In these preceding examples, the words ending in -ing are verbs.

Gerunds, however, act as nouns. So a word that ends in -ing and sounds like a verb can actually be a noun, as in these sentences:
Jogging is a good form of exercise.
Bicycling is also good, and it's easier on the knees.
Golfing can be good exercise, too.
Yes—particularly with all the walking.

In the preceding sentences, jogging, bicycling, golfing and walking are gerunds.

Gerunds also frequently form compound nouns—that is, nouns composed of more than one word. Here are a few examples of compound nouns with gerunds in them:
Data processing
Decision making
Kite flying
Problem solving
Troubleshooting
Speed-reading
Stamp collecting

Some of these are two words, others are one word and others are hyphenated. For the rules on which ones are one word, two words or hyphenated, The Gregg Reference Manual recommends a dictionary as the best reference.

And as far as distinguishing gerunds from verbs is concerned, context is the best guide. Fred likes stamp collecting. (Gerund. Stamp collecting is an activity-or simply put, a thing.)


Fred has been collecting stamps for many years.
(Verb. Collecting is something Fred does. It's an action.)

Stamp collecting is a great way to learn about other cultures.
(Gerund. Again, collecting is an activity, a thing.)

Some people find that collecting stamps has become more difficult in the days of self-adhesive postage.
(Verb. Collecting describes an action.)

So sometimes when it looks like there's no noun in a sentence:
Running is fun!

Look again—it just might be a gerund.

Sources: Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin; Grammar: A Student's Guide by James R. Hurford; Fowler's Modern English Usage by RW Burchfield.

Music: "Dreaming of You" by The Coral; "Frenesi - Twist" by Les Elgar & His Orchestra; "Can't Stand Losing You" by The Police.

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