One confusing aspect of the English grammar is the use of the gerund.
What’s a gerund?
Simply put, a gerund is one of the uses of the ING form of verbs. Such as the words: writing, cooking, sleeping.
Present Progressive vs. Gerund
We also know that we find this form of the verb in sentences like:
She is cooking dinner
They are washing the car.
These are examples of the Present Progressive or Continuous tense. It is defined as the tense that expresses an action that occurs at or around the moment of speaking. So, the Present Progressive uses the ING.
But, what happens with the following sentences?
Cooking pizza is easier than you think
I love eating chocolate.
Those sentences do not express progressive actions, but they have verbs in the ING form. So, how to explain all these different uses?
The best way to know it is to roll back a little bit and start by studying the four forms of the verbs.
The Forms of the Verbs in English
Present – Past – Past Participle – Present Participle
Let’s take the verb To eat. The four forms of the verb Eat are:
Eat – Ate – Eaten – Eating
What about the verb Walk?
Walk – Walked – Walked – W2alking
Open – Opened – Opened – Opening
Type – Typed – Typed -Typing
Drive – Drove – Driven -Driving
Show – Showed – Shown – Showing
We can see here that the fourth form of the verb is the ING form, in al cases. By definition, now we know it is called Present Participle. So, again, the present participle is the ING form of the verb.
The Present Participle, the Continuous Tense, and the Gerund
The most important point to know here is that the Present Participle, the fourth verb form, has different uses. One, as described before, is the expression of the continuous tense.
Example: They are painting the wall
Now, what we call a gerund is different from a continuous tense. With the gerund, we borrow the verb and use it to express something different than an action taking place. Let’s see what other uses the ING form has that are known as gerunds.
Gerund -Name of an Action.
If we need to use a verb as the name of the action the verb expresses, we use a gerund. For instance:
Cooking pasta is easy
Writing emails is more common nowadays than writing regular letters
Swimming is good for your health, and it is fun, too.
In these cases, the verbs cooking, writing, and swimming are not expressing an action that is occurring.
Ask youself: in the prior examples, what are the main actions in the sentences or action verbs? They are not cooking, writing, and swimming.
Cooking, writing, and swimming are just naming the actions they express. As a matter of fact, these verbs are the subjects of the sentences they appear in, which means that they are acting as names, not verbs. In this case, we say that they are gerunds.
A note: the infinitive form, also known as the “To” form of the verb, can be used as a subject, too. However, it is said that sentences using this form are more philosophical or abstract:
To study math is convenient in High School
To go to church is something everybody should do
Gerund – Adjectives
If we need to use a verb as an adjective that modifies a name, we use the ING form. When that happens, we also say that we are using a gerund.
I thought I heard the noise of running water in the bathroom.
I have heard the most exciting news.
Gerunds After Prepositions.
In English, if a verb follows a preposition, such verbs must be in the ING form. In that case, we also say that it is a Gerund.
I am thinking of visiting my relatives
They read a book about becoming an entrepreneur
I suggested telling her about traveling by plane instead of by car.
Again, visiting, becoming, and traveling, are not expressing actions. They name the actions the speaker is referring to. In such case, we say that we are using a gerund.
The Gerund Must Be Use After the Following Verbs:
AVOID – APPRECIATE – ADMIT – CONSIDER – ENJOY – PREVENT – POSTPONE – FINISH – DISLIKE – DENY – RISK – MIND – FORGIVE – SUGGEST – DETEST – BE WORTH – KEEP (as CONTINUE) – DELAY – IMAGINE – EXCUSE – UNDERSTAND – CAN’T HELP – CAN’T STAND
John avoids eating a lot of fat
They detest mowing the lawn all weeks
Lina keeps walking to work every day.
Now, there is a second group of verbs that accepts another verb in the ING form after them or accepts an infinitive. These verbs are:
NEED (AS IN IT NEEDS) – BEGIN – START – ATTEMPT – INTEND – CAN’T BEAR – LOVE – LIKE – PREFER – REMEMBER – CONTINUE – REGRET – PERMIT – STOP – TRY HATE – GO ON – BEG – USED TO – FORGET
Different Meaning Depending of The Form of The Verb Used
It is interesting to notice that sentences with verbs from this list may have different meanings depending on the form the second verb takes. That is , if after the main verb comes another verb in the ING form or in the infinitive form.
Let’s study the case of the verb stop, for instance.
Infinitive form: They stopped to drink water
In this case, the subjects of the sentence where probably driving a car and stopped it to get into a place, for example, and look for water to drink.
Gerund form: They stopped drinking water.
In this example, the subjects of the sentence where drinking water and quit drinking it at some point.
Special Case With the Verb Try.
When we use the verb Try followed by a gerund, the meaning of the sentence is to make an experiment with.
She tried swimming before going to bed, and she slept better.
If we use Try followed by a verb in the infinitive form, the meaning changes. It has a connotation of making an attempt. For example;
He tried to swim before going to sleep, but she was very tired so she preferred not to do it.
The study of English presents interesting cases. Many students assume the ING form of the verb only expresses continues action. Now we know that the ING form of the verb is more than that. It allows us to use the verbs as names, adjectives, and it may change the meaning of the whole sentences depending on the main verb it works with.