It is important to understand the difference between gerunds and participles.
A present participle is a verbal form (derived from a verb) that ends in –ing and functions as an adjective because it modifies or describes nouns and pronouns.
Look at these sentences:
Strangling an iguana, Susan smiled.*
The young woman strangling an iguana is Susan.
The gasping iguana was rushed to the veterinary clinic.
*No iguana was actually harmed in the explanation.
In the first sentence, the participle phrase strangling an iguana modifies or describes the noun Susan. In the second sentence, it modifies young woman. In the third sentence, the participle gasping modifies the noun iguana.
A gerund is a verbal form that ends in –ing and functions like a noun; that is, it takes the same positions in a sentences that a noun takes. Present participles and gerunds look exactly alike, but their function is different.
Look at these sentences:
Strangling an iguana is disgusting. (Subject of the sentence)
I despise strangling iguanas. (Object of the verb despise)
I object to Susan’s strangling an iguana. (Object of the preposition to)
Why is Susan’s possessive? Because it’s not Susan I object to, but her strangling the iguana. A noun or pronoun modifying a gerund must be in the possessive. We can replace the gerund phrase strangling an iguana with the noun iguana in these sentences and they will make sense:
Iguanas are disgusting.
I despise iguanas.
I object to Susan’s attitude toward iguanas.
For practical purposes, knowing when to use a possessive noun or pronoun as modifier is the most important part of distinguishing gerunds and participles: I see Joan smoking (participle) I hate Joan’s smoking (gerund). It’s the smoking, not Joan, that I hate.
Choose the correct word and decide whether the –ing word is a gerund or a participle.
- We really appreciate (your/you) inviting us to dinner.
- No one seemed to mind (me/my) leaving early.
- The (employee’s/employee) stealing paper clips was caught.
- Perhaps (your/you) snoring at your desk was the reason you got fired.
- (Anybody’s/Anybody) sleeping on the job will be fired.
- The (engine’s/engine) overheating caused the car to stall.
- The (man’s/man) smoking in the third row is my brother.
- We admired (Bob’s/Bob) skilful skiing.
- Bob saw (us/our) talking about him.
- (Susan’s/Susan) strangling the iguana got her arrested.
Answers: 1. your, gerund 2. my, gerund 3. employee, participle 4. your, gerund 5. Anybody, participle 6. engine’s, gerund 7. man, participle 8. Bob’s, gerund 9. us, participle 10. Susan’s, gerund