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The Differnce Between English and Latin Gerunds

written by: John Garger • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 7/19/2014

English gerunds can be difficult to spot because they share their form with other verbal constructions. In Latin, there is no ambiguity when the student encounters a gerund.

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    Latin in the Bible from Wikimedia Commons Latin and English differ fundamentally when it comes to grammatical constructions. As an inflected language, Latin’s words change to indicate their use in a sentence. English often adds words to create phrases to indicate what is going on in a sentence. However, some of the changes English words do go through to indicate their use in a sentence are used in multiple constructions.

    A gerund is a form of a verb that functions as part verb and part noun. Gerunds indicate a verb that is being used as a noun. In English, gerunds are formed by taking a verb and adding –ing to the ending. For example:

    Walking

    Talking

    Doing

    However, this form of the verb is used in several English constructions. Only context determines its use. Latin, however, has a distinct inflected form to indicate the gerund. For once, Latin is easier than English!

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    The English Gerund

    The gerund is sometimes called a verbal noun, a name that better describes its use in a sentence. The English gerund is formed by taking the normal verb form and adding –ing to the end. However, this construction is used in three English constructions; in a verb phrase, as a verbal adjective, and as a gerund. Distinguishing these three uses of the same form of the verb requires much experience with the English language. Native English speakers, of course, use them without any trouble. For non-native English speakers, this anomaly of the language presents a very difficult obstacle to proper English grammar.

    As part of a verbal phrase, the verb + -ing form of a verb helps indicate the time at which the verb takes place. For example, in:

    John is walking to the store.

    “is walking" is a verbal phrase indicating that the action is taking place right now in the current time.

    As a verbal adjective, the verb + -ing form of the verb acts just like any adjective modifying a noun. For example:

    John is a driving expert.

    Here, “driving" modifies “expert" because it indicates which type of expert John is.

    As a gerund, the verb + -ing form of the verb acts as a noun that can function just like any other noun in a sentence. For example, in:

    Driving is a dangerous job.

    “Driving" is a gerund because it is a verbal form acting as a noun in the sentence.

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    The Latin Gerund

    The gerund in Latin can be easily identified because it has a second-declension present form plus a special ending. The special ending is the addition of –nd– plus the ending necessary to indicate its function in a sentence (e.g. indirect object) just like any other noun. For example:

    nom. –

    gen. –ndi

    dat. –ndo

    acc. –ndum

    abl. –ndo

    agendo laborare disco.

    I learn to work by doing.

    Latin gerunds have no nominative form because unlike in English, Latin gerunds do not function as subjects or direct objects. Instead, the infinitive form of a verb is used. For example:

    Laborare est bonus.

    To work is good.

    Amas laborare.

    You like to work.

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    Wrap-Up

    A gerund is a verbal form that functions as a noun in both English and Latin sentences. Identifying gerunds in Latin is easier than in English because they always use the telltale –nd– + seconds-declension ending form. Unlike English, Latin gerunds do not function as either the subject or direct object of a sentence. Instead, use the infinitive form of the verb to indicate these noun functions.

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