Writing Tools: Variable Gerund Often Turns Head-Scratcher

Writing Tools: Variable Gerund Often Turns Head-Scratcher

The having to fight with that boisterous element took his attention and freshened him up – Charles Dickens, The Chimes

Arup Chakraborty Updated: Sunday, January 28, 2024, 12:58 AM IST
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Writing Tools: Variable Gerund Often Turns Head-Scratcher |

The gerund, the infinitive and the participle are the most important, but the most complex of features in the English language. This is the region where even seasoned writers fear to tread. The gerund varies. So, it is puzzling and using it in writing is an art. It may make or mar a sentence. Many modern writers avoid it. The wrongly used gerund may unnecessarily lengthen a sentence as well as may dangle it.

This is the reason why using the gerund in an introduction to a news story is not preferable.

Renowned grammarian Hendrik Poustma said, “The gerund is a substantival form of the verb which is intermediate between the infinitive and the noun of action; ie it is of less distinctly verbal nature than the infinitive, and of a more distinctly verbal nature than the noun of action.”

Gerund forms which correspond to complex predicates may be called complex gerunds. Such gerunds contain some auxiliary of voice or tense – for example, being punished, having punished, being destroyed and having destroyed.

The expressions, with the gerund of the verb ‘to be’ like “being,” indicate compulsions. For example, being punished for no fault, the man left the job. Even without “being” the gerund may hint at compulsions. For example, “having to return.”

He dreaded the having to return almost as much as going forward – Samuel Butler, Erewhon, or, Over the Range.

The complex gerunds should be distinguished from compound gerunds. Such gerunds are made up of a noun, an adverb or a preposition plus a verb, for example, horse-breeding, bringing up or upbringing and listening to.

The same name may be given to o the gerunds of word groups forming a kind of unit and consisting of a copulative plus nominal or nominal equivalent. For example, being poor, remaining poor or becoming poor.

The clerk went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas eve – Charles Dickens, Christmas Carol

It was difficult enough getting acquainted with her – Jack London, Martin Eden

A few grammarians have objected to calling such phrases compound modifiers, because they, but infrequently, consist of an adverbial modifier.

I told him of the church’s being so very well worth seeing – Jane Austin, Persuasion

Compound gerund may be made complex

This is made to show voice tense. Such gerund is generally made up of (being plus past participle of the verb).

Tennyson disliked being lionised or run after. Horace enjoyed being pointed out as he walked along the street – Daily News

Gerund may also be directly formed. For example, ballooning, flowing, black-berrying, gardening, shopping and soldiering.

The past year has been a particularly eventful one in South African banking – Times

He saw the danger of day-dreaming – Literary Supplement

These “ing-forms” are also frequent enough in the function of present participle, but the other verbal forms correspond to them. They are at all used, and must be set down as back formations.

Southampton went soldering in France – Times Literary Supplement

The gerund may also be formed with adverbials. For example, home – homing (home-coming), innings, offing and outing.

She professed her entire indifference as to the route of her outing – E F Benson, Mr Teddy

Verbal, substantial features of gerund

The gerund is difficult because of its variable nature. It sometimes exhibits only such features as are peculiar to verbs and sometimes only such are peculiar to substantives. It can sometimes be made up of verbs such as are peculiar to substantives.

Again in many positions the gerund is practically equivalent to, and even interchangeable with the infinitive on the one hand and on the noun of action on the other.

The grammatical features of verbs are: that may be accompanied by objects and adverbial adjuncts. It may either be made up by inflection or by periphrasis; they may show the distinctions or tense, voice, mood, person and number. For example, a smiling face, withering leaves and darkening sky.

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