Non-finite English verb forms: Gerund

November 7th, 20093:04 pm


Non-finite English verb forms: Gerund

The Gerund is the most specific non-finite form of the verb in the Eng­lish language. The formal sign of the Gerund is wholly homonymous with that of Participle I: it is the suffix -ing added to its grammatically leading element. Whereas the Infinitive and the Participles are forms typical of all modern Indo-European languages, the Gerund has its parallel only in Span­ish. The Gerund, like the Infinitive, combines the properties of the verb with those of the noun. Similar to the Infinitive, the Gerund serves as the verbal name of a process, but its substantival quality is more strongly pronounced than that of the Infinitive. Namely, as different from the Infinitive, and simi­lar to the noun, the Gerund can be modified by a noun in the possessive case or its pronominal equivalents (expressing the subject of the verbal process), and it can be used with prepositions.

Like the Infinitive, the Gerund is a categorically changeable form. It distinguishes the two grammatical categories, sharing them with the finite verb and Participle I, namely, the category of relative tense and the category of voice. Consequently, the categorical paradigm of the Gerund includes four forms: the Simple Active, the Perfect Active, the Simple Passive, and the Perfect Passive.

In the sentence, the Gerund can be modified by the direct object, though still in the sentence it performs functions typical of the noun. The possibility to use the Gerund expands informative content of the simple sentence, since the Gerund conveys information presented in other languages by means of subordinate clauses.

The Gerund, like the Infinitive, is an abstract name of the process de­noted by the verbal lexeme. This observation might bring up the question why the Gerund is not taken as the head-form of the verbal lexeme as a whole. The explanation lies in that, in the first place, the Gerund is semanti­cally more detached from the finite verb than the Infinitive, since the Gerund tends to be a far more substantival categorically. Then, as different from the Infinitive, it does not join in the conjugation of the finite verb. Unlike the Infinitive, it is a suffixal form, which makes it less generalized than the Infinitive in terms of the formal properties of the verbal lexeme. Finally, it is less definite than the Infinitive from the lexico-grammatical point of view, being subject to easy neutralizations in its opposition with the verbal noun in -ing, as well as Participle I. Hence, the Gerund cannot compete with the Infinitive for the paradigmatic head-form status.

In the sentence any of gerundial forms may be used in any of the follow­ing functions: subject, object, attribute, and adverbial modifier:

…his singing had not been without a certain style… (Hill) (subject)

We were poles apart, and moved though I was, his need had not suc­ceeded in bridging the gap. (Chaplin) (object)

…Iris hated the thought of its falling into the hands of Frank’s successor. (King) (attribute)

Did she earn her living by giving entertainment to others? (Hill) (adver­bial modifier)

The Gerund used in attributive function is distinctly opposed to Parti­ciple I, since the Gerund has a meaning comparable with the meaning of a noun in a similar syntactic position. Participle I, on the contrary, denotes a quality or a property that is revealed or results from some action. Cf. a dancing girl and a dancing hall where the first ing-iorm is Participle I and the second – a Gerund.

One of the specific gerundial patterns is its combination with the noun in the possessive case or its possessive pronominal equivalent expressing the subject of the action. This gerundial construction is used in cases when the subject of the gerundial process differs from the subject of the govern­ing sentence-situation, i.e. when the gerundial sentence-part has its own, separate subject:

Sandy and Jenny had not given much thought to the fact of the art mas­ter s inviting them as a group. (Spark)

It is the possessive that establishes the Gerund as the form of the verb with nounal characteristics. It should be noted that, from the point of view of the inner semantic relations, this combination is of a verbal type, while from the point of view of the formal categorical features, this combination is of a nounal type.

Besides combining with the possessive noun-subject, the verbal ing-form can also combine with the noun-subject in the common case or its objective pronominal equivalent:

Sandy was sometimes embarrassed by her mother being English and calling her “darling”, not like the mothers of Edinburgh who said “dear”. (Spark)

The Gerund-Infinitive correlation should be brought under considera­tion, since they seem to reduplicate certain properties without any differenc­es. However, observations of the actual uses of the Gerund and the Infinitive do show the clear-cut semantic difference between the forms, which consists in the Gerund being, on the one hand, of a more substantival nature than the Infinitive and, on the other hand, of a more abstract nature in the logical sense proper. Therefore, we may conjecture that the Gerund and the Infini­tive do not repeat, but complement each other. The differences between the forms in question may be demonstrated by the following examples:

I hate having dinner alone. I hate to have dinner alone.

In the first sentence, the reference is general, it expresses the speaker’s permanent (at least for the time being) dislike to eating without a company, whereas in the second sentence the statement refers to this particular dinner rather than dinners in general. As a result of comparing examples like these, it becomes obvious that the Infinitive is more dynamic, while gerundial col­locations lack this dynamic nature.

When speaking about the functional difference between linguistic forms, one should bear in mind that this difference might become neutralized in various systems or contextual conditions, e.g. some phasal predicators (to begin, to start, to continue, to finish, etc.) alternate freely Gerunds and In­finitives. However, there are cases where the use of the Gerund is either preferable or exclusive. These cases are represented by a set of transitive verbs to avoid, to delay, to deny, to mind, to postpone, etc. and especially prepositional-complementive verbs and word-groups (e.g. to accuse of, to agree to, to depend on, to prevent from, to think of, to succeed in, to thank for, to be aware of to be keen on, to be interested in, etc.).

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