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Author Topic: How gerund phrases work  (Read 116 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: January 25, 2018, 12:01:34 AM »

In this series, we have already taken up the noun phrase, the noun clause, and the infinitive phrase as well as the uses and behaviors of these three noun forms. In the case of the infinitive phrase, we saw that this kind of verbal—a verb form that functions as another part of speech—often works as a noun but can also serve as an adjective or adverb. And because it is always singular in sense when it is the subject of a sentence, we needn’t worry about inadvertently violating the subject-verb agreement rule when using it.  

Now let’s discuss the fourth noun form, the gerund phrase.  

                                                                                              IMAGE CREDIT: PORTLANDENGLISH.EDU
“JUMPING FEARLESSLY TO THE UNSEEN RIVER BELOW” IS A GERUND PHRASE

We already know that a gerund is a verbal that ends in “-ing” and works as a noun. Like the infinitive, a gerund is always singular in sense when it is the subject of a sentence: “Writing is essentially a solitary activity.” “Singing has always been her passion.” Now, when a gerund is followed by its object or any modifier related to that gerund, it becomes a gerund phrase, as in this example: “Writing a masteral dissertation while holding a full-time job requires a lot of discipline and hard work.” Here, “writing a masteral dissertation while holding a full-time job” is the gerund phrase. Its basic gerund is “writing” and “a masteral dissertation” is its object; together they are modified by the phrase “while holding a full-time job.”  


As a noun form, a gerund phrase can also serve as direct object of a verb, as subject complement, or as object of the preposition. For example, the gerund phrase “my giving you this chance to rectify your mistakes” is the direct object of the verb “appreciate” in this sentence: “I trust that you appreciate my giving you this chance to rectify your mistakes.” On the other hand, the gerund phrase “asking for directions from a total stranger” is the subject complement in this sentence: “The woman’s mistake was asking for directions from a total stranger.” In this third example that follows, however, the gerund phrase “looting the country’s treasury” serves as the object of the preposition “for”: “Those crooked bureaucrats will certainly be punished for looting the country’s treasury.”  

A gerund phrase, like the basic gerund, is a form that never requires a comma. In fact, the presence of a comma before, within, or right after an “-ing” phrase is almost certainly a sign that that phrase isn’t a gerund phrase. Take this example: “Driving at full speed in the early morning hours, the sleepy driver rammed the sedan into a lamppost.” Here, the phrase “driving at full speed in the early morning hours” isn’t a gerund phrase but a phrase using the progressive form of the verb “drive.” Likewise not a gerund phrase is “considering many of the employees…for early retirement” in this sentence: “The ailing company is considering many of the employees, old-timers and newcomers alike, for early retirement.” It’s a phrase that uses the simple progressive tense of the verb “consider.”  

Another caveat: A phrase that uses the “-ing” form of verbs but works as an adjective is not a gerund phrase but a participle. Recall now that a participle is a verbal that works as an adjective, so a participial phrase is simply a phrase that uses a participle to introduce it. This is the case of the “-ing” phrase in this sentence: “The intervening years of their separation have not dimmed the couple’s affection for each other.” Here, “the intervening years of their separation” is not a gerund phrase but a noun phrase (“years of their separation”) modified by a present participle (“intervening”).  

Our discussion of the four noun forms is now complete. We will take up the participles and participial phrases next.



This essay, 1076th in the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the January 25, 2018 issue (print edition only) of The Manila Times, © 2018 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENT: I have taken the liberty of using as Twitter visual peg for this Forum post the charming family biking photo in the online WorldBiking blog "The Philippines: First Impressions and a Minor Case of Culture Shock." To the unnamed blogger, thank you so much! Click this link to view the Tweet. (Jose Carillo, January 26, 2018)


(Next week: How participles and participial phrases work)    February 1, 2018
« Last Edit: January 26, 2018, 07:36:10 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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