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Gerunds as Subjects

Specify activities


A Noun Phrase vs. A Gerund Clause


An activity may be expressed with a noun phrase and a predicate (verb). In traditional grammar, it was said that a noun "acts as" the subject. However, current linguistic description separates what a word does from what it is called. In fact, a wide variety of structures (nouns, gerunds, infinitives and clauses) can function as the subject within a clause. See Function v. Category.




save a lot of time

Online study  

noun phrase

is very convenient.

The online practices 

noun phrase

help students without books. (PP)

The computer in my room 

noun phrase

allows me to study from home.


An activity may also be expressed with a gerund or a gerund nonfinite clause (newer description). This word or structure can function as the subject, verbal complement ("object") or modifier in the matrix "main" clause. See Gerundial Nonfinite Clause and A Clause: Phrase, Nonfinite & Finite for Word Categories. See Subject, Predicate, Complement for Functions.




saves a lot of time.

Studying online  

gerund nonfinite clause

is very convenient. 

Using online practices

gerund nonfinite clause

helps students who don't have books. 

Working from home

gerund nonfinite clause

allows a person to work in comfort.


complement (N) – in grammar, a word, phrase of clause required to complete another element in the clause, for example, the verb "hung" requires a location. He hung UP his coat. He hung his coat on the hook. The prepositional phrase complements "completes" the verb, See Complements.

See Grammar Notes (section below) for Lexical Categories "Parts of Speech" (V, NP, AdjP) and Grammatical Functions (Subj, Pred, Comp).

Also see Noun vs. GerundThe landing of the airplane (NP) vs. Landing an airplane. (GER)

Also see A Verb vs. A Verb Phrase vs. The Predicate

Also see Verbs: Two Basic Categories — Primary v. Secondary




Subject Clauses

That-clause vs. Gerund-clause


General and Specific Wording of Subject Clauses


An activity can also be expressed as a subordinate that-clause, which can function as the subject . However, this wording can be "heavy" at the front of a sentence.  More commonly, the clause is reworded to a gerund clause, a nonfinite clause.


~That people use a computer
(in general)              

saves a lot of time.

~That we have been using a computer
(more specific)

saves a lot of time.

~That Jason is using a computer 
(very specific)

saves a lot of time.

~That people can study online
(in general)

is very convenient.

~That you and I are studying online
(more specific)

is very convenient.

~That Mary studied online 
(very specific)

was very convenient.


As subject, a gerund clause is less awkward sounding than a that + clause structure. Because a gerund clause is reduced (i.e., not marked for tense, person, or number, and the subject omitted) information must be understood from context.


Using a computer
(in general) 

saves a lot of time.

Our¹ using a computer
(more specific)

saves a lot of time.

Jason's² using a computer (very specific)

saves a lot of time.

Studying online
(in general)

is very convenient.

Our studying online 
(more specific)

is very convenient.

*Mary's studying online 
(very specific)

was very convenient.


*not used / ~awkward sounding, borderline usage

¹ The subject ("agent") may be expressed as a possessive pronoun before the gerund. (he → his, she → her, us → our, etc.)

² When specifying a name, a gerund clause is less commonly used, but it is not incorrect.  (Jason's use of a computer… Mary's studies online…  )

finite clause — includes a subject and a verb marked for tense and number: He uses a computer;   Nonfinite — infrequently includes a subject and the verb is a "reduced" form (ing) that is not marked for tense or number; (His) using a computer…

Also see That/What Clauses,  It–Subject Clauses,  * It is + adjective for





Gerund Clause Agreement

Express one or more activities


Gerund Clause Agreement with Predicate


A gerund clause is usually singular in agreement with the verb. Two clauses coordinated with or or nor are also singular in agreement.

Reading books is important for learning vocabulary.

Texting while driving is dangerous.

Texing or holding a phone is allowed when parked.

Neither texting nor holding a phone is allowed while driving.


Two gerund clauses coordinated with and are plural in agreement.

Reading and listening to the television are two ways to improve your vocabulary.

Emailing and texting are illegal activities for drivers behind the wheel.




Gerund Forms



Word Form


For most words, a gerund is formed by taking the base verb form and adding ing.

For words ending in e, a gerund is formed by taking the base verb form, removing the final e, and add ing.

For words ending with a stressed [consonant + short vowel + consonant] pattern, double the final consonant and add ing.


wash — washing  (one syllable)

choose — choosing

win — winning

dry — drying

time — timing

be-gín — beginning

trá-vel — traveling (travelling Eng-Br)

love — loving

per-mít — permitting (stressed CVC pattern)

cán-cel — canceling   (cancelling Eng-Br)

confuse — confusing

oc-cúr — occurring




These words contain "short" vowel sounds. Double the final consonant before adding -ing


nap   /næp/

wed   /wɛd/

swim  /swɪm/

chop /tʃɒp/

run /rʌn/

nap –   napping

wed – wedding

swim – swimming

chop – chopping

run – running

wrap – wrapping

step – stepping

hit – hitting

jog –   jogging

sun – sunning

bag –  bagging

set –   setting

win – winning

nod  – nodding

hug – hugging

bat  –   batting

beg – begging

kid (joke)  – kidding

spot – spotting

shut  – shutting

Exceptions — lie / lying, tie / tying, die / dying





Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions



Error and Solution


Running people were in the street.

(People are not described as doing this specifically. Running is more often used for habitual and customary activity or ongoing acts of nature.)

Running marathons require strength and endurance.


People who were running were in the street.  (specific activity)

Runny noses can be annoying.  Adj. (in general)

Running in the street is a dangerous activity in a big city.  (in general)

Running water can erode the side of a hill.  (in general)

Running marathons requires strength and endurance.

(A gerund nonfinite clause is singular in agreement with the verb.)


erode (V ) — wear down; destroy

runny nose (NP) – constantly dripping; drippy





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Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions



Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions


In traditional grammar, the gerund is described as a verbal-noun.  The gerund form is the base verb form and -ing  [verb-ing].   The "gerund" is a verbal-noun which is distinct from the "participle" which is a verbal-adjective.



Starting a sentence with a gerund is common. 

traditional diagram: To start a sentence with an infinitive is uncommon


In current linguistic analysis, the gerund is categorized as a secondary verb form (not inflected with tense or person, and rarely including a subject in its clause.)  The gerund is no longer distinguished from the participle. (Huddleston 82, 1220)  Linguistic analyses could not uphold the verbal noun– verbal adjective distinction. Hence, the current term is gerund-participle (which does not include past participles, -ed forms). (Swan 293-300) See Primary vs. Secondary Verb Forms 


Starting a sentence with a gerund is common. 

Diagram: Starting a sentence with a gerun is common



Word Categories: N – Noun; V – Verb; Aux – Auxiliary; Adj – Adjective; Adv – Adverb; P –Preposition; Det –Determiner. See Word Categories.

Phrasal Categories: NP – Noun Phrase; VP – Verb Phrase; AdjP – Adjective Phrase; AdvP – Adverb Phrase; PP – Prepositional Phrase; DP – Determinative Phrase.

Clausal Categories: Cls – clause; F – finite clause; NF – nonfinite clause (Ger – gerund; Inf – infinitive; PPart – past participle).

Word Functions: Subj – subject; Pred – predicate/predicator; Compcomplement: elements required by an expression to complete its meaning (DO – direct object; IO – indirect object);  Adjunctadjunct: elements not required by an expression to complete its meaning (Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator); Suplsupplement: a clause or phrase added onto a clause that is not closely related to the central thought or structure of the main clause.



Works Cited

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Biber, Douglas and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English, Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • ——— A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, Cambridge UP, 2005.
  • Pullum, Geoffrey. "Non-finite Clauses." Linguistics and English Language. University of Edinburgh. 1 Nov 2012.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
  • "Sentence diagram: The Reed Kellogg System." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2016,





Practice 1

Buying and Selling Online

for sale


Read Context

Ebay — Buying, Selling and Trading       

Ebay is the Internet version of the "flea market". People can list items they would like to sell and find items they'd like to buy.  The eBay site allows users to search for item descriptions. Sellers can post their items, change the item category showcase the item and view bids on the item.


Purchasers can verify the authenticity of an item, purchase insurance, put the item in escrow and even get help with disputes when there is a disagreement. Buying, selling and trading are very efficiently done via the Web.

authenticity (N) — the quality of being real or true

bid (N) –  an offer to pay a particular price for something

category (N) — a group of things that are all the same type or kind

dispute (N) — a serious argument or disagreement

escrow (N) a service that holds the money while the agreement is being made

flea market (N) — an open air market to which people bring old things to sell

insurance (N) — a  policy that returns money to a person if there is accidental loss

list (V) — post items for sale on the Internet; put something on an official list

purchaser (N) — buyer

resolve (V) — to find a satisfactory way of dealing with a problem or difficulty

showcase (V) –  a place (or page) that shows the good qualities of something

trade (N) — exchange something of equal value

verify authenticity (v) – make sure it truly is what the seller says it is

version (N) — a copy of something that has been changed so that it is slightly different





Create a bulleted list of activities that eBay enables its users to do.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-10" button.


People can list items they want to sell…

and find items they want to buy.

Users can search for descriptions of items…

and change the category of their item

They can feature their item in a showcase…

and view bids.

There is a service to verify an item's authenticity…

an item's authenticity

and another service to purchase insurance.


For large sums of money, they can put the item in escrow.

If problems arise, users can request assistance if there is a dispute (disagreement).






Practice 2

Gerund Word Forms




Read for Errors

There are two parts to — tell– a good joke. The –time– of telling a joke is an art. Not –destroy– the punchline is very important. –Joke– is a different form of humor which doesn't include a story. –Kid– is another kind of humor in which someone says something untrue for a particular effect.

–Try– to make people laugh often doesn't work. –Get– to the final punchline takes a little time. –Fly– through a joke too quickly doesn't give listeners enough time to visualize the situation. –Tie– the details of a joke together is like weaving cloth.  –Relate– the joke to the audience is essential.

When a comedian isn't getting many laughs, this is called –die–.  Another expression for a comedian who isn't doing well on stage is –choke–. –Win– laughs from an audience is a rewarding feeling. –Be– a good actor also helps when telling a joke. –Have– a good memory helps a lot too. –Make– people smile is priceless.

audience (N) — people who are listening and watching

effect (N) — reaction, result

essential (Adj) — important

fly (V) — move quickly to the end of a job or task

humor (N) — being funny, something unexpected that causes laughter

priceless (Adj) — extremely valuable, no one can put a price on it

punchline (N) — the final funny line of a joke

relate (V) — to connect; to feel you understand someone's problem

tie details (V) — hold together the small parts, show how they go together

visualize (V) — see something in one's mind

weave (V) — making a textile, cloth





Select the correct spelling.

  1. Select your response from the list.
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 11-26" button.











the joke to the audience is essential. 














Practice 3

New Puppy



Read for Errors

Teaching a new puppy to walk on a leash takes a little bit of practice. The puppy will be playful but not very focused. 

Find the right harness is very important.  For a puppy, you will want one that attaches to the dog's chest not the dog's neck.  Pull the puppy will cause the body of the dog to move forward.  If the dog resists or pulls against you, don't force it.

Put a treat in front of the dog is another way to get the dog to walk ahead.  Let the dog smell the treat in your hand. 

Then, walk forward. The dog's nose will follow. Don't let the dog have the treat right away.  Let the dog take a few steps before rewarding the dog.

Use a tasty treat to encourge a specific behavior is very effective. With a little bit of practice, a lot of patience, and love, your puppy will become your walking companion.

attach (V) — tie, connect to

chest (N) — large body part below the dog's neck

companion (N) — someone you spend a lot of time with, especially a friend

dog treat (N) — a small bit of food used to train or reward good behavior

effective (Adj) — having a good result; a good for a purpose

encourage (V) — give someone the courage and confidence to do something

focused (Adj) — able to pay attention to a specific thing (rather than everything in general)

harness (N) the leather  straps or "jacket" attached to a dog to control its movement

leash (N) — a strip of leather or fabric which attaches to a dog collar or harness

patience (N) — remain quiet and wait for things to happen rather than forcing them to happen

resist (V) — not want to do something

reward (V) — give someone something for good behavior or achievement

tasty (Adj) — good tasting (meaty)





Edit for Errors

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 27-30" button.


Find the right harness is very important. 

Pull the puppy will cause the body of the dog to move forward. 

Put a treat in front of the dog is another way to get the dog to walk ahead. 

Use a tasty treat to encourge a specific behavior is very effective.