A question about gerunds really confuses me:

Is it true when gerunds are objects, we can't make them work as nouns?

For example, we can't say:

"I really enjoy free swimming!"


"My teeth are worth deep cleaning?"

But I have seen some titles like "The skillful defusing of bombs is XXXX" or "The dog hates the singing of its owner" Are there any mistakes?

  • 4
    Some people have misled you.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 1:51
  • From this link, emphasis mine: "A gerund ... is a noun formed from a verb by adding -ing." What do you mean by "can't make [gerunds] work as nouns"?
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 5:34
  • @Lawrence I'm not certain I'd take learnenglish.de as the last word here. A gerund is lexically a verb: it's inflected from a verb base and it can take an object like a verb. Both very non-noun kind of things. Nouns are regularly inflected for number and the possessive, and they take determinatives. Gerunds, not so much. It's perhaps better to say that gerunds perform the same functions in a sentence that noun phrases do.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 6:08
  • @deadrat I didn't notice the top-level domain :) . From ODO then: "A verb form which functions as a noun ...". This is very much in line with your comment. Either way (ODO's or yours), gerunds "work as nouns" by definition. So my question to the OP still stands - in what way "can't [we] make [gerunds] work as nouns"? Or more strongly, in the event that a gerund is (or more accurately, refers to) an "object" (i.e. definitely functions as a noun / noun phrase), why does the OP say they can't make it "work as [a] noun"?
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 6:22
  • @Lawrence Gerunds certainly do the work of nouns, so I don't understand that part of the OP either. The only examples of the alleged not working is taking adjectival modifiers.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 6:34

2 Answers 2


Gerunds are not nouns. Gerund phrases are noun phrases, but that is quite different. Since gerunds are not nouns, but are instead verbs, if they are modified, the modifier must be an adverb. Since there are nouns derived from verbs in English by adding the suffix -ing to a verb, the situation is confusing, but these nouns in -ing are not gerunds.

In your example

"The skillful defusing of bombs is XXXX"

"defusing" is a noun derived from the verb "defuse", and we can tell that "defusing" is a noun by its being preceded by an article, "the", by its being modified by the adjective "skillful", and by the fact that the logical direct object "bombs" has to be made into a prepositional phrase with "of".

Although this is not an example of a gerund, there is a gerund form of this:

"Skillfully defusing bombs is XXXX"  

where the gerund "defusing" is shown to be a verb by the facts that it is not preceded by an article, it is modified by an adverb rather than an adjective, and it takes a direct object (which nouns do not do).

  • Thanks very much for your help! But why people can say:The decisions need careful planing?
    – moyeea
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 12:14
  • In your example, "planning" is a noun, not a gerund. Since it's a noun, it can be modified by the adjective "careful". (The gerund form would be "The decisions need planning carefully", which is of doubtful grammaticality.)
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 14:25
  • Thanks very much! That is what I wanna ask...If the gerund doesn't have a object. Can we use it as a noun? Otherwise how to explain online shopping combined shipping?
    – moyeea
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 15:13
  • 2
    Gerunds are not nouns. However, although there are many differences between nouns and verbs, sometimes you can't tell whether a specific word is a noun or a verb. If you start with a gerund, then change the example by removing anything that shows it's a verb, it doesn't get changed into a noun -- you just can't tell any longer.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 18:30
  • 1
    Your latest examples have nouns derived from verbs, but they are nouns and not verbs. Calling them "verbal nouns" invites confusion. We can use nouns that are derived from verbs where we can use nouns (since that is what they are) and when there is some reasonable interpretation involving a sentence using the verb from which the noun is derived. I prefer the cooking of a certain restaurant when I prefer to eat what [S that restaurant cooks].
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 21:12

Gerunds can definitely be objects. All of those sentences are correct English.

  • I don't think the OP disputes that gerunds can be objects. He was just told that when they appear as objects, they can't be modified.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 5:15

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