Gerunds, Participles, and Infinitives

Gerunds, Infinitives, and Participles are all types of verbs. A gerund is a verb that ends with -ing (such as dancing, flying, etc.), that functions as a noun. An infinitive is a verb that is preceded by the word “to” (such as to run, to fly, to play, etc.). A participle also ends in -ing like a gerund, but it does not function as a noun. Instead, they form the progressive tense of a verb. They can sometimes function as an adjective, but not always.

Gerunds, Participles, and Infinitives

Words are divided into different categories depending on their use and function. These categories are what we like to call the parts of speech. There are eight parts of speech in the English language: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections. Today, we’ll actually be talking about gerunds, participles, and infinitives. Now, you’re probably wondering how those are related to the parts of speech, right? Well, for the sake of understanding these concepts, just think of those three as various ways in which the different parts of speech can be used. In other words, the main parts of speech are your tools, and our three topics for today are the projects you need the tools for.

A gerund is a word that is created with a verb but functions as a noun, always ending in -ing. Being used as a noun, a gerund can function as a subject, a subject complement, a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of a preposition. It’s important to note that though gerunds may look a lot like present participles, they are not the same thing. Gerunds are specifically placed in the noun position of a sentence whereas present participles are placed with the verb phrase, usually as modifiers.

Here is an example of a gerund in the subject position:

Brushing your hair prevents it from tangling.

In this sentence, the word brushing is the gerund functioning as the subject of the sentence.
If a gerund were to be the complement of a subject in a sentence, it would look like this:

Her number one priority is working.

Working is functioning as a complement to the subject, priority.

Gerunds can also function as the object of a sentence. Here’s an example where the gerund is the object of a preposition:

“There is no use in standing in line for three hours,” grandma said.

In this sentence, standing follows the preposition in, making it the object of the preposition.

Very similar to gerunds are participles. Participles are words created from verbs that are then used as adjectives to modify nouns in a sentence. They can also be used as introductions to adverbial phrases. There are present and past participles. Present participles always end in -ing and correlate to events taking place in the current tense. The past participle can be either regular or irregular and refers to events that have already happened. Differentiating between participles and gerunds can be a little tricky sometimes because participles can actually function as gerunds. For our purposes today, we’re going to look at some rather straightforward examples.

When using a participle as an adjective, you might come across a sentence like this:

The browning fruit should be put outside for composting.

Browning is a present participle (noted by the -ing ending) that is modifying the noun fruit.

I spent the whole day studying math.

In this sentence, studying is a present participle that is working as the beginning of an adverbial phrase in the sentence. The phrase studying math is modifying the verb spent. How did I spend the whole day? Studying math.

Both of those examples were present participles, meaning the words ended in -ing­ to denote something happening in the current time. As mentioned, there are such things as past participles. Past participles can have varied word endings (depending on the word being used); Most commonly, you will see -d­ or -ed added to the end of a word. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

The windows were cracked when the rain storm came through.

Here, the word cracked is the past participle working as an adjective to modify the noun windows.

He continued forward cautioned by the desolate streets.

Cautioned is the past participle in the sentence functioning as the beginning of an adverbial phrase describing the word continued.

Additionally, participles can also appear as multi-part verbs. The multi comes from attaching an auxiliary verb or helping verb to the main verb being used in the sentence.

Joan was baking fresh cookies for her grandkids.
In this sentence, only one helping verb is used, was; It is paired with the participle baking to create a multi-part verb.

Joan has been baking all morning.
The helping verb in the sentence: has been Participle: baking

Joan would have been reading all morning if her grandkids hadn’t said they were coming over.
Helping verb: would have been Participle: reading

Knowing how to form different endings of the participles allows for a variety of meanings to be conveyed. Unlike gerunds and participles, infinitives do not change their endings; they are always in the simple, singular form.

Infinitives are singular verbs usually preceded by the word to. They do not have any special suffixes, they’re just simple in nature. In other words, the verbs are unconjugated. Infinitives can be used as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Most likely when you are dealing with infinitives, you will be dealing with the present infinitive; that’s what we’ll be looking at today. The to is used with the infinitive to show the purpose of something or maybe to express someone’s opinion. Let’s look at some examples of infinitives!

Noun Josh wants to study as soon as he gets home from school.

Adjective Today, she wants to show Josh a new game to play.

Adverb Josh played the new game with his sister instead of studying to make her happy.

We’ve discussed quite a bit today. Remember, gerunds are words that are formed from verbs and used as nouns, always ending in -ing; participles are words created from verbs that can be used as adjectives or in adverbial phrases, also ending in -ing (unless expressing past tense); and infinitives are verbs that take the simple tense and follow the preposition to.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson of the parts of speech. Be sure to “like” this video and “subscribe” to our channel for more grammar tips. Until next time!

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: April 5, 2019