Verbs vs. Gerunds

Posted: August 19, 2014 in My Work Field

Your English teacher probably told you that some verbs are not used in progressive tenses, for example, I am knowing you.  No one would ever say I am knowing you.  This is INCORRECT.

Many verbs simply cannot have -ing.  Here are a few more examples (they are all INCORRECT):

  • We are loving our teacher.
  • It is existing in my mind.
  • The children are hating my soup. 

Now we are going to say something CRAZY.  Hold onto your seats! 

Add -ing to all verbs!  That -ing can now go on almost any verb! 

Did we change the rules of English grammar?  No.

So what happened?  Well, it is time to explain.  The rules that we, as well as your teacher, taught you are still correct.  Many verbs cannot have -ing.  These kinds of verbs are called stative verbs.  These verbs have little or no physical activity. 

So, let’s explain gerunds.  Look at the following sentences?  Which words are the nouns?

  • Alaska is fun.
  • English is difficult.
  • That is ice cream.

Which words are the nouns?  Of course you know.  The nouns are Alaska, English, and ice cream.  You chose these words because you know that you need nouns in those places.  The red lines below show you where nouns are required.

  • ______ is fun.
  • ______ is difficult.
  • That is ______.

You can put any noun on these red lines (as long as it makes logical sense).  What if you want to sayan action is fun or difficult?  That is when you need a gerund.  If you want to use an action word in a place that requires a noun, you can usually use a verb with an -ing ending.  For example, 

  • Fishing is fun.
  • Hiking is difficult.
  • That is ballet dancing.

In these sentences, fishing, hiking, and dancing look like verbs, but they are not verbs.  They are nouns.  When a noun looks like a verb with -ing, it is called a gerund.  

Even stative verbs (those verbs that almost never have -ing) can be turned into gerunds.  A native speaker of English would NEVER say I am believing you.  However, a native speaker could say 

Believing in God is important.

Believing, here, is a gerund.  It is NOT a verb.  Believing in God is a gerund phrase.

Gerunds act just like nouns.  Gerunds can be followed by possessive pronouns (my, his, her, our,their, its). They can also be followed by a possessive s.

  • My cooking is famous in my hometown.
  • Jake‘s driving scares me.

There is also a perfect (or past) form of gerunds. The past form of gerunds is formed by using having + past participle.  This kind of gerund suggests that the gerund happened before something else.

NO GERUND I have been to South Korea.
WITH GERUND My having been to South Korea helped me learn the language when I took classes.
this suggests that the speaker had gone to South Korea BEFORE he took the language classes

This rule works not only for the present perfect, but also for other past tense forms.  Look at the following sentences.  The first one (without the gerund) uses the simple past tense (took).

NO GERUND I took a physics class.
WITH GERUND Having taken a physics class helped me in calculus.  

*this suggests that the speaker had taken a physics class BEFORE she took the calculus

There is also a passive form of gerunds.  The passive form of gerunds is formed by using being + past participle.

NO GERUND

I was accepted to Harvard University.

WITH GERUND

Being accepted to Harvard University was the greatest day of my life.

The passive form of gerunds is also formed by using getting + past participle:

NO GERUND

We got scared by that movie.

WITH GERUND

Getting scared by that movie made us leave before it finished.

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