English Grammar: Gerund, Participle & Infinitives

English Grammar: Gerunds, Infinitives and Participles

English Grammar: Gerund, Participle & Infinitives

Last Updated on Oct 31, 2020

The three verbals— gerunds, infinitives and participles—are formed from verbs, but are never used alone as action words in sentences. Instead, verbals function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. These verbals are important in phrases.

Verbs are the words that express action in a general sense, without limiting the action to any time, or asserting it to any subject. They basically refer to words that are based on a verb but are not used as a verb; rather they are used as nouns or adjectives.

A gerund is a verbal that ends in ‘-ing’ and functions as a noun. Since it functions as a noun, it occupies the same position in a sentence that a noun ordinarily would such as subject, direct object, subject complement, and object of preposition. Example: Traveling might satisfy your desire for new experiences.

A participle is a verbal that is used as an adjective and most often ends in -ing or -ed. It has some features of verbs and some of adjectives, but it is basically a type of adjective. There are two types of participles: Present participles and Past participles. Present participles usually describe what a thing does and Past Participles usually describe what was done to a thing. Example: She is buying a talking bird for her daughter. [Present Participle] A broken clock stood on the mantelpiece. [Past Participle]

An infinitive is a verbal consisting of the word ‘to’ plus a verb and functioning as a noun, adjective or adverb.

Comparing Gerunds and Participles

Look at the following pair of sentences. In the first, the use of a gerund (functioning as a noun) allows the meaning to be expressed more precisely than in the second. In the first sentence the interrupting itself, a specific behavior, is precisely indicated as the cause of the speaker’s irritation. In the second the cause of the irritation is identified less precisely as Bill, who just happens to have been interrupting. (In the second sentence, interrupting is actually a participle, not a gerund, since it functions as an adjective modifying Bill.)

I was irritated by Bill’s constant interrupting.
I was irritated by Bill, constantly interrupting.

The same pattern is shown in these other example pairs below: in the first of each pair, a gerund (noun-function) is used; in the second, a participle (adjective-function). Notice the subtle change in meaning between the two sentences in each pair.

The guitarist’s finger-picking was extraordinary.
(The technique was extraordinary.)
The guitarist, finger-picking, was extraordinary.
(The person was extraordinary, demonstrating the technique.)

Comparing Gerunds and Infinitives

The difference in the form of gerunds and infinitives is quite clear just from comparing the following lists:

  • Gerunds: swimming, hoping, telling, eating, dreaming
  • Infinitives: to swim, to hope, to tell, to eat, to dream

Their functions, however, overlap. Gerunds always function as nouns, but infinitives often also serve as nouns. Deciding which to use can be confusing in many situations, especially for people whose first language is not English.

Confusion between gerunds and infinitives occurs primarily in cases in which one or the other functions as the direct object in a sentence. In English some verbs take gerunds as verbal direct objects exclusively while other verbs take only infinitives and still others can take either. Many such verbs are listed below, organized according to which kind of verbal direct object they take.


From the above explanation we hope you have understood the difference between Gerunds, Infinitives and Participles. Also, we have provided some examples to clear their usage.
For more such posts, check the links below.
Subject of a Sentence

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