Gerunds, Infinitives and Participles
Compounding and Coordination
Subordinate Adverb Clauses
Subordinate Noun Clauses
Subordinate Adjective Clauses
Reduced Subordinate Clauses
Focus Structures
Logical Connectors


Sentence Complexity and Embedding

Gerunds, Infinitives and Participles

We have now looked at all the basic parts of a simple sentence. We’ve seen that simple sentences contain one subject-predicate pairing, and we have looked closely at both of those parts. Predicates typically contain the verb and the other constituents of the predicate depend on the type of verb. Subjects tend to be noun phrases, and we have looked closely at noun phrases not only when they function as subjects but also as they play other grammatical roles in a sentence. In this chapter we will consider certain kinds of words that are hybrids of other types, words that combine features of two other types of words. That is to say, limiting ourselves to the traditional eight parts of speech has become insufficient for going beyond the simple sentence. We will first begin with gerunds, and then take on infinitives, and finally address participles.

Activity 12.1: Defining Gerunds

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Find and label the parts of these sentences.  What type of word is used for each syntactic role?

  1. Running is fun.
  2. Sean likes skiing.
  3. I gave jogging a chance in my 30s.
  4. Sue talked about swimming with Jim.
  5. My favorite sport is sailing.
  6. Ann considers her favorite sport bowling.
  7. Josh’s favorite sport, golfing, bores me.

Define gerunds:


Activity 12.2: Identifying Gerunds

Exercise A: Underline the gerunds in the following sentences.  Look carefully at their structures.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player


  1. Homer likes football.
  2. Homer likes watching football.
  3. Homer doesn’t like playing football.
  4. Football is fun.
  5. Watching football is fun.
  6. Playing football is dangerous.
  7. We talked about the game.
  8. We talked about winning the game.
  9. Winning the game made us happy.

Exercise B: Underline the gerunds in the following sentences.  Look carefully at their structures.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

1. Working until 5:00 is common in the US.
2. I like Sharon’s cooking dinner early on Sundays.
3. Good cooking doesn’t come out of cans.
4. Running the marathon tired the participants.
5. The parents were broke after giving their three daughters money for graduation.
6. I got the taxes in the mail by running downtown on the 15th.
7. His calling me stupid really angered me.

Features of Gerund Structure:

Gerunds are interesting hybrid structures.  They are best defined as the –ing form of a verb that is used in the same ways a noun is used.  We can say that they are ½ noun and ½ verb structures, as my eighth grade teacher used to say (this is the hybrid nature of the words).  That is, a gerund is an –ing form of a verb that can be used as a subject, direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition, subject complement, object complement, or appositive.  Activity 12.2 gives examples of gerunds in all these roles.

As hybrid structures, gerunds exhibit characteristics that nouns have, and they also exhibit the characteristics that verbs have.  That is, as a child of a noun father and a verb mother, they look like their verb mothers and act like their noun fathers!  Like their noun fathers, they can be modified by all the noun modifiers, and like their verb mothers, they can be modified by all the verb modifiers.  That is, gerunds can be modified by the noun modifiers: determiners, quantifiers, adjectives, and prepositional phrases.  We can see examples of these in the sentences of Activity 12.2.  Sentence 1 in exercise 12.2B has a gerund followed by a prepositional phrase, sentence 2 shows a gerund modified by a possessive noun determiner, sentence 3 shows a gerund modified by an adjective, and sentence 7 shows a gerund modified by a possessive pronoun determiner.

Gerunds can also have predicates of their own, so to speak, which share the predicate structure of their pure verb mothers.  That is, a gerund from a linking verb will have a subject complement after it, a gerund from a transitive action verb will have a direct object of its own, and possibly an indirect object or an object complement, and so on.  Sentences in Activity 12.2 again provide examples.  Exercise 12.2A, sentences 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9 shows gerunds with direct objects.  In exercise 12.2B, sentences 2, 4, and 5 also have direct objects.  Sentence 5 has an indirect object as well as a direct object.  Sentences 2 and 6 include adverbs modifying the gerunds, and sentences 3, 5, and 6 include adverbial prepositional phrases modifying the gerunds.  Finally, sentence 7 shows a gerund with a direct object and an object complement of its own.

Activity 12.3: Defining Gerunds

Underline the gerunds and look at their forms in the following sentences.  What else can you add about the characteristics of gerunds?

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

1. Being cheated angered him.

2. His not being elected disappointed me.

3. Having failed embarrasses me.

4. The president’s not having been informed resulted in multiple firings.

More features of gerunds:


Activity 12.3 shows more ways that gerunds exhibit the same features as verbs do. They can display passive voice forms, negative forms, and progressive and perfect forms. Sentences 1 and 2 show examples of passive gerunds. Sentence 2 is negative as well as passive. Sentences 3 shows a perfect gerund. Sentence 4 shows a negative passive perfect gerund as the subject, and a simple gerund as the object of a preposition.

Page 2