What is a Gerund Phrase?
A gerund phrase is created when a gerund – a verb that takes an –ing form and functions as a noun – has a modifier, object or both. That sounds quite technical, so let’s break it down for a simple explanation of a gerund phrase:
First, here is an example of a gerund phrase in a sentence
- Eating a slice of pie quickly is a recipe for disaster.
So, we can breakdown the gerund phrase like so:
- The gerund in the sentence is eating. (Remember, a gerund is a noun that is formed by adding the -ing suffix to a verb.)
- The object in the sentence (the thing being acted upon, in this case by eating) is a slice of pie.
- The modifier in the sentence is quickly.
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How do you recognize a gerund phrase when you see one?
A gerund phrase will follow these rules, which can help you identify a gerund phrase in a sentence:
- The phrase will always start with a gerund.
- The gerund phrase will either have a modifier, an object or both.
- The entire phrase will function as a noun.
- The phrase will have singular agreement with a verb.
Look at these examples with the gerund phrases used in different ways:
- Reading books quietly is my favorite pastime.
- My favorite pastime is reading books quietly
- I recommend reading books quietly to pass the time.
Regardless of where the gerund phrase reading books quietly appears in the sentence, it satisfies the four rules listed above. Remember that the purpose of a gerund phrase is to act like a noun, so you can check it by replacing it with a noun and seeing if the sentence still makes grammatical sense:
- Television is my favorite pastime.
- My favorite pastime is television.
- I recommend television to pass the time.
However, you should be careful not to confuse gerund phrases with participle phrases. The differences are subtle, as shown below:
- Drinking beer heavily is bad for your health. (gerund phrase)
- Drinking beer heavily, Tom and Jim became more raucous. (not a gerund phrase)
How do we know the second example is not a gerund phrase? Well, it is not acting like a noun and thus does not satisfy the four rules of gerund phrases. It is a participle phrase, which acts like an adjective. We can see this by replacing the phrase with a noun and seeing that it does not make sense:
- Alcohol is bad for your health. (sentence still makes sense)
- Alcohol, Tom and Jim became more raucous. (sentence no longer makes sense)
Tip: If the phrase is followed by a comma, then it is more likely to be participle phrase and not a gerund phrase.
Gerund Phrase Examples
While the rules of gerund phrases set out earlier help us recognize them in a sentence, gerund phrases have various uses in a sentence. They have a variety of roles in a sentence and can be acted upon in varying ways: Sometimes the gerund phrase is the subject; sometimes it is the object or indirect object; other times it is the object of a preposition; and finally, it can also be the predicate nominative.
Examples of gerund phrases for each group are given below:
In the following examples, the gerund phrase is acting as the subject of the sentence. The subject is the thing or person that carries out the action of the verb.
- Sleeping through the night is difficult for me.
- Making noise is what happy children and almost all teenagers do best.
- Watching bad television defined my teenage years.
- Running with scissors on a slippery floor was a terrible idea.
- Travelling across France should be a rite of passage for all writers.
Direct Object Examples
In the following examples, the gerund phrase is acting as the direct object in the sentence. The direct object is the noun or pronoun that receives the action of the main verb.
- I love sleeping through the night.
- My parents prefer eating dinner alone.
- We would not recommend travelling without insurance.
- His daughter enjoys fixing broken bicycles.
- Do they like swimming with dolphins?
Indirect Object Examples
In the following examples, the gerund phrase is acting as the indirect in the sentence. The indirect object is affected by the action of the verb, but it is not its main object.
- As part of her new wellness regimen, Jenny made sleeping through the night her priority.
- Clinton gave running for president her best shot.
- We make writing three poems a requirement to pass our course.
- Men don’t always see raising children well as an accomplishment.
- Why don’t you make completing a marathon your main goal?
Predicate Nominative Examples
In the following examples, the gerund phrase is acting as a predicate nominative. A predicate nominative completes the linking verb and renames the subject. For example, in the examples below the gerund phrases answer or define the first part of the sentence.
- My biggest difficulty is sleeping through the night. (What is my biggest difficulty? It is sleeping through the night.)
- Our top priority was getting everyone on the plane.
- The critical issue of his arrest wasn’t driving without a license.
- Her favorite thing was listening to music.
- A good career for her might be coaching soccer.
Object of a Preposition Examples
In the following examples, the gerund phrase is acting as the object of the preposition in the sentence. The object of a preposition is simply a word or phrase that is preceded by a preposition and completes its meaning.
- The doctor suggested drinking warm milk for sleeping through the night. (For what? For sleeping through the night.)
- By crying like a baby, you won’t get anywhere in life.
- Exercise is futile without eating healthily.
- He wanted to learn more about riding a bike.
- Detectives were relieved after finding the evidence.