English grammar can seem very confusing! Some areas come easier than others and sometimes the actual grammar point is not so hard, it is the terminology that confuses us. Articles, prepositions, pronouns, pluperfect tenses, noun phrases…the words we use to describe the grammatical processes often give us the idea that the grammatical knowledge and use is harder than it really is. This is certainly true of gerunds. It’s just a funny sounding word for a start! Students tend to think, “Oh no not gerunds, what on earth are they again?!” In fact, if we just think of them as “ing” words, they are one of the simpler grammar points. So, let’s get our gerunds sorted once and for all and that will be one less thing to worry about.
For which sections of the PTE will I need to understand gerund use?
Writing: Essay writing and summarize written text task
Speaking: Re-tell lecture and Describe Image
Reading: Fill in blanks tasks
Listening: Fill in blanks task
What is the gerund?
As we mentioned earlier, the best way to remember the gerund is to think of it as an “ing” word. However, it is useful to understand more deeply how the word is formed and how it functions.
We will choose a word as an example and look at its formation and function: reading.
Reading is a satisfying hobby.
Now…..this is the terminology part: As we know, to read is a verb as it is an action. We can say, I am reading. However, when we use the word reading in this sense, it also functions as a noun as it is used as the subject in the sentence. We know this by asking the following question: Q: What is a satisfying hobby? A: Reading. So, our gerund, reading, acts as a verb and a noun or what we can describe as a verb-noun.
All clear so far? Good, we can move on to the next step! Our gerund or verb-noun can act as other types of words as well as a subject. By breaking it down, we can see how broad its function is and why we need to get our heads around it. We will give examples from four word categories in which a gerund or gerund phrase can be used, starting with some more examples of the gerund as a subject.
1. Gerunds and gerund phrases as a subject
A subject of a sentence shows who or what the sentence is about or refers to the person or thing performing the action (verb) in a sentence.
The gerund functions as the subject of the sentence and therefore as a noun: Remember the trick to finding the subject of a sentence is by asking the question, what…? The answer is the subject. We will also show you the difference between a gerund and a gerund phrase here.
Dancing is a fantastic way to keep fit and have fun.
Q. What is a great way to stay fit and have fun? A. Dancing
Gerund = dancing
Cooking is a relaxing pastime.
Q: What is a relaxing pastime? A: Cooking
Gerund = cooking
Drinking coffee helps you to stay alert.
Q: What helps you stay alert? A: Drinking coffee
Gerund phrase = drinking coffee (as you can see, in this case drinking is followed by a noun, making drinking coffee a gerund phrase)
2. Gerunds and gerund phrases as direct objects
A direct object is the word that takes on the action from another verb (we call this a transitive verb). You will find gerunds and gerund phrases used as direct objects.
My husband hates singing. The transitive verb is hates and the gerund phrase (and direct object), singing, receives the action of the verb.
Gerund = singing
My sister loves writing stories. The transitive verb is loves and the gerund phrase (and direct object), writing stories, receives the action of the verb.
Gerund phrase = writing stories
3. Gerunds and gerund phrases as objects of prepositions
A preposition shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun (or in this case the gerund or gerund phrase) and the rest of the sentence.
Are you any good at swimming?
Gerund = swimming
Preposition of which it is an object = at
Maria is thinking about taking a French class
Gerund phrase = taking a French class
Preposition of which it is an object = about
Michael is preoccupied with caring for his dog
Gerund phrase = caring for his dog
Preposition of which it is an object = with
4. Gerunds and gerund phrases as subject complements
A subject complement follows a linking word and refers to the subject of the sentence.
Saskia’s role was working for an advertising firm
Gerund phrase = working for an advertising firm
Linking word = was
Andrew’s sporting activity is playing tennis
Gerund phrase = working for an advertising firm
Linking word = is
As you can see, gerund and gerund phrases can be used in many ways. Don’t worry too much if you are still unsure about some of the grammatical terminology used to identify different parts of a phrase or sentence. You cannot learn them all at once and they will sink in as you continue to revise English grammar and practice using it in your daily life as well as your PTE practice.
If you take anything from this article, it can be that a gerund is the “ing” form of the verb that can function as different types of words as well as a verb. We have lots of grammar resources available on our website and before you know it, you will be a grammar expert! Good luck with your grammar practice!