You won't be surprised to learn that gerund phrases contain gerunds. In fact, they begin with gerunds, or words that end in -ing. That's a great way to spot them. Gerund phrases are a tricky bunch because they're created out of verbs but function as nouns.
An example of a gerund is, "Do you mind my walking your dog?" At a glance, "walking" seems like an action verb when, in fact, it's acting as a noun. It's the object of the sentence, in response to the verb "mind." Let's expand on this a bit and have some fun with gerund phrases.
A gerund phrase starts with a gerund and includes other modifiers or objects. Knowing that gerunds always function as nouns, remember that gerund phrases will also serve as nouns. We'll see them in one of three positions in a sentence:
As the subject of a sentence, a gerund phrase will be the main focus, or what the sentence is about. Here's an example:
Writing in her journal by candlelight is her favorite part of the day.
Let's break that down. What is the sentence about? It's about a woman writing in her journal by candlelight. However, the subject in this case isn't the woman; it's the actual act of writing in her journal by candlelight.
The gerund phrase functions as the subject of the sentence. It contains the gerund "writing" as well as the modifiers, or the words that provide added detail, "in her journal by candlelight."
The verb in this sentence is "is." It's a linking verb. It's not showing any action. Rather, it's linking the subject, "writing in her journal by candlelight," to the subject complement, or the portion of the sentence that's providing more detail about the subject. What is it about writing in her journal by candlelight? It's her favorite part of the day. Here are three more examples:
Drinking from her teacup is the finest evening activity.
Running with her dog exhilarates her every morning.
Reading from a poetry anthology warms his heart and soul.
A favored activity for travelers to Ireland is climbing twisty stairs in 15th century castles.
So, what's this sentence about? It's discussing a favored activity for travelers to Ireland. Note the linking verb is "is" again. It's linking the subject to its complement, "climbing twisty stairs in 15th century castles." Here are three more examples:
Jon's activity of choice has been playing tennis at the local club.
The school activity Mary hated the most was taking algebra exams.
My plan to be productive became watching Netflix all afternoon.
The object of the sentence is something that's receiving the action of the verb. A typical sentence will have a subject, a verb indicating what that subject is doing, and an object that's responding to the verb. Here's an example:
Travelers must anticipate meeting loads of interesting people along the way.
In this example, the subject of the sentence, or the thing being discussed, is "travelers." The verb - and this time it's an action verb - is "anticipate." Who or what should the travelers anticipate? Meeting loads of interesting people along the way. It's receiving the action of the verb "anticipate." Here are three more examples of gerund phrases functioning as objects:
Happy dogs enjoy playing with plush toys.
Maggie hates boarding planes amidst pushy people.
Mindfulness requires taking yourself out of your comfort zone.
When used properly, gerunds and gerund phrases are a nice way to beef up our nouns. For one, we can find out more about the subject of a sentence with a brief little interlude.
How are you feeling about your grammar powers? This is pretty advanced terminology. Why not give yourself a little test? See if you're already aware of these 11 rules of grammar. Then, strap on your badge of honor. You're practically a grammar pro!