A gerund phrase consists of a gerund, its object, and all modifiers. For example:
In the gerund phrase above:
- Eating blackberries without washing them will make you ill.
Read more about gerunds.
- Eating is the gerund.
(A gerund phrase always starts with the gerund.)
- The word blackberries is the object of the gerund.
(The object of a gerund is also called the gerund complement.)
- The phrase without washing them is a modifier.
(In this case, the modifier is an adverbial phrase.)
The Parts of a Gerund Phrase
All gerunds end -ing. They are nouns formed from verbs. For example:
A gerund is not like a normal noun because a gerund can take a direct object (just like a verb can). The direct object of a gerund is known as a gerund complement. For example:
- eating (from the verb to eat)
- taking (from the verb to take)
- painting (from the verb to paint)
These complements (or objects) make up part of the gerund phrase.
- eating a cake
- taking a drink
- painting a fence
Gerunds can also be modified. For example:
These modifiers also make up part of the gerund phrase.
- eating a cake quickly
- taking a drink at the watering hole
- painting a fence with the brush his wife bought him
More Examples of Gerund Phrases
Below are some more examples of gerund phrases (shaded):
- Arithmetic is the ability to count up to twenty without taking off your shoes. (Mickey Mouse)
(gerund in bold)
- Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. (Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, 1893-1986)
- Thinking rationally is a realistic assessment of the situation with a view towards rectifying the problem if possible.
Do Not Confuse Gerunds with Present Participles
Not every word which ends -ing is a gerund. Present participles also end -ing. Present participles are also verbals (i.e., words formed from verbs), but they are not used as nouns. They are used as adjectives or when forming verbs in a progressive tense. For example:
- Eating a banana an hour before can help.
(This is a gerund phrase.)
- Eating a banana with one hand, he suddenly looked up.
(This is a participle phrase; i.e., the participle is being used as an adjective.)
- The gorilla was eating a banana with one hand.
(This is a present participle used to form the past progressive tense.)
- If you are eating the wrong foods in the wrong amounts, all the exercise in the world won’t combat the caloric intake.
(This is a present participle used to form the present progressive tense.)
What are gerunds?
What is a complement?
What does modify mean?
What are direct objects?
What are present participles?
What is a participle phrase?
What are the progressive tenses?
Glossary of grammatical terms