What is a gerund? Is that one of those little rodent-type creatures who run around inside a wheel? Oh. No, that’s a gerbil.
The word 'gerund' in English comes from the Latin term gerundium, of the same meaning. Gerundium itself comes from the gerundive of the Latin verb gero, gerundus, meaning "to be carried out".
We all know what a gerund is even if we don’t know the name. A gerund is an “ing” form of a verb when it serves as a noun. Although they name things, like other nouns, they normally name activities rather than people or objects.
Shopping is a Sally’s favorite pastime.
Riding a horse is something Rob never thought he’d do.
As you can see, gerunds are often passive writing and are generally frowned upon by English teachers and purist editors. Sally would rather shop than eat is certainly a more active sentence and shows how much passion she has for shopping. Rob never thought he would ride a horse OR Rob never wanted to ride a horse are also more active sentences.
I can’t talk about gerunds without discussing infinitives, which are verbs formed with “to.” To shop is Sally’s passion. To ride is something Rob thought he’d never do.
Again, these sentences are a bit awkward and certainly can be made more active.
Both gerunds and infinitives can be the subject of a sentence, as in the above examples.
Both gerunds and infinitives can be the object of a verb: Sally likes shopping. Rob doesn’t like to ride.
But only gerunds can be the object of a preposition: Sally continually talks about shopping. Rob always avoids riding.
Do you avoid gerunds in your writing or editing, or when do you embrace them?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.