Dirty Grammar is an occasional series that explains grammar stuff using X-rated examples. I have a Masters in Literacy from MSU, and I’m certified to teach English and Language Arts. I’ve taught ELA for years, and I’m an editor for Lost Goddess Publishing.
Gerunds are verbs that act as nouns, and they end in -ing. That’s a pretty difficult concept to wrap your head around, so you might consider that they name an action. Gerund phrases are phrases, meaning they are often made up of other sentence parts. You’ll find they’re frequently paired with prepositional phrases. Consider this example from Tristan’s Lover, Nicoline Tiernan’s first MM novel (due out November 24, 2014):
The howling of the wolves sounded closer, so Eric deep-throated Tristan.
The gerund—howling of the wolves—is the subject of this sentence. Gerunds can be used anywhere a noun can go—as a subject, direct object, or object of the preposition.
The most common mistake people make with gerunds is using them as participles. Gerunds name while participles describe. Consider this example of a compound sentence from Elena and Those Holland Boys by Nicoline Tiernan:
He bent his head over her chest, and then he took a nipple in his mouth.
Writers often try to use this sentence:
He bent his head over her chest, taking a nipple into his mouth.
This sentence is grammatically incorrect. It can’t use a gerund phrase to name an action because he can’t do both at the same time, he has to do one, and then he can do the other action. In other words, he must bend before he can take.
I learned grammar from a variety of sources, mostly textbooks and editors. I don’t know the exact editions of the books, but in my teaching, I’ve used grammar textbooks and workbooks from Glencoe, Prentice Hall, and Houghton Mifflin. I’m also partial to those Sentence Composing for Elementary and Middle School workbooks from Don and Jenny Killgallon, which I use regularly in my classroom. I also love Grammar Garden, which is sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation, as they have great explanations and examples. Oh—and any credits wouldn’t be complete without giving a shout-out to Grammar Girl! I love her podcasts, and I’m working my way through her book during SSR when I’m not reading something else. Note that all of these sources contain G-rated examples. Dirty Grammar sticks to X-rated examples.