What Is a Gerund Phrase? (with Examples)

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Gerund Phrase

A gerund phrase is a phrase that consists of a gerund, its object, and any modifiers.

gerund phrase

Easy Examples of Gerund Phrases

Here are some easy examples of gerund phrases. (In these examples, the gerund phrases are shaded, and the gerunds are bold.)
  • Removing the dressing quickly is the best way.
  • Here are the parts of the gerund phrase:
    • gerund: "removing"
    • direct object: "the dressing"
    • modifier: "quickly"
  • I like singing songs in the shower.
  • Here are the parts of the gerund phrase:
    • gerund: "singing"
    • direct object: "songs"
    • modifier: "in the shower"
  • Try to serve the soup without dropping the tray this time.
  • Here are the parts of the gerund phrase:
    • gerund: "dropping"
    • direct object: "the tray"
    • modifier: "this time"
Here is an example without an object:
  • Moving quickly is the key to survival.
  • Here are the parts of the gerund phrase:
    • gerund: "moving"
    • modifier: "quickly"
Here is an example without a modifier:
  • I want to talk to you about buying those magic beans.
  • Here are the parts of the gerund phrase:
    • gerund: "buying"
    • direct object: "those magic beans"

Let's Dissect a Gerund Phrase

Let's dissect two more gerund phrases and make things a little bit more complicated.
  • Eating blackberries quickly will make you ill.
In the gerund phrase above:
  • "Eating" is the gerund.
  • (A gerund phrase always starts with the gerund.)
  • The word "blackberries" is the direct object of the gerund.
  • (The object of a gerund is also called the gerund complement.)
  • "Quickly" is a modifier (an adverb).
Now, let's make it a little more complicated:
  • Eating blackberries without washing them will make you ill.
This is the same as the example above, except - this time - the modifier is the phrase "without washing them." Just like "quickly" in the first example, it is an adverb. In fact, "without washing them" is an adverbial phrase, which itself contains a gerund phrase ("washing them") consisting of a gerund ("washing") and its direct object ("them").

Read more about gerunds.

The Function of Gerund Phrases

Like all nouns, a gerund phrase can function as a subject, an object, or a complement within a sentence. For example:
  • Eating blackberries quickly is a bad idea.
  • (Here, the gerund phrase is the subject of the verb "is.")
  • She hates waiting for trains.
  • (The gerund phrase is the direct object of the verb "hates.")
  • She knew a lot about growing tomatoes in cold climates.
  • (The gerund phrase is the object of the preposition "about.")
  • Her biggest mistake was caring too much about the quality of the product.
  • (The gerund phrase is a subject complement that completes the linking verb "was.")
Read more about how nouns function.

The Parts of a Gerund Phrase

All gerunds end "-ing." They are nouns formed from verbs. For example:
  • eating (from the verb "to eat")
  • taking (from the verb "to take")
  • painting (from the verb "to paint")
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 a cake
  • taking a drink
  • painting a fence
These complements (or objects) make up part of the gerund phrase.

Gerunds can also be modified. For example:
  • eating a cake quickly
  • taking a drink at the watering hole
  • painting a fence with the brush his wife bought him
These modifiers also make up part of the gerund phrase.

Real-Life Examples of Gerund Phrases

Here are some real-life examples of gerund phrases. (In these examples, the gerund phrases are shaded, and the gerunds are bold.)
  • Arithmetic is the ability to count up to twenty without taking off your shoes. (Mickey Mouse)
  • Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. (Biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi)
  • 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 - unlike gerunds - they are not used as nouns. They are used as adjectives or to form verbs in a progressive tense.

This is a gerund phrase:
  • Eating a banana an hour before can help.
These are not gerund phrases:
  • Eating a banana with one hand, Jack suddenly looked up.
  • (This is a participle phrase. It is functioning as an adjective describing "Jack.")
  • 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.)
Read more about present participles.

Why Should I Care about Gerund Phrases?

Here is a great reason to care about gerund phrases.

Gerunds can reduce your word count and improve reading flow.

Using normal nouns (i.e., not gerunds) and the prepositions needed to make those nouns often makes a sentence jolty and unnecessarily long. For example:
  • The discovery of this new cave will assist with the facilitation of the exploration of the western tunnels.
  • (This sentence has way too many nouns. It's long and stuffy, and it doesn't flow naturally.)
As a rule, the best way to fix a jolty, noun-ridden sentence is with a well-placed verb. However, gerunds (having verb-like qualities) are also a useful tool for reducing your word count and creating sentences that flow better.
  • Discovering this new cave will assist with exploring the western tunnels.
  • (This 11-word version features two gerund phrases. It flows far better than the 18-word version above.)
Of course, a few other things have happened here to reduce from 18 to 11 words (e.g., the redundant "with the facilitation of" was removed), but the very act of trying to replace a rabble of nouns and prepositions with some sleek gerund phrases will drive those other changes too.

Read more about how normal nouns can make your writing seem clunky.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

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