Thursday, June 9, 2011

Special Gerund Constructions and Their Grammar

There are certain sentence constructions in English which teachers find hard to explain to learners . Constructions like " The Police had a hard time controlling the crowd " do not lend themselves to easy explanation . Teachers often explain them away as special gerund constructions which grammar cannot explain . By the way, the -ing -form in some of these constructions are not really gerunds at all , but they are present participles .( When the -ing -form resembles a noun it is called a gerund .. Gerunds share the characteristics of a noun .Present participles , on the contrary, have the characteristics of a verb . and they resemble verbs rather than nouns ).

How can we explain the sentence construction " The Police had a hard time controlling the crowd" ? It is obvious that the preposition in is omitted in this construction. The English language has been dispensing with prepositions when they serve no useful purpose, or when their meaning is absorbed in the verbs . Gerund form is used after prepositions in English ,and this is continued after the omission of prepositions before verbs . There are a few native speakers of English who omit in after the verb succeed as in the sentence" He succeeded becoming the manager" The following sentences show omission of prepositions: in a similar manner .

* She spent the time watching TV( 9omission of by )
*I had difficulty remembering his e-mail address. (omission of in )
*He wasted his time reading cheap magazines .(omission of by )

In some gerund constructions we can see truncated adverbial clauses , that is , adverbial clauses from which subordinating conjunctions (when, while, as etc ) , subject and auxiliary are omitted , leaving behind the -ing-form of the verb and adverbs Look at the following sentences :

*The poet saw her reaping in the field . *
*I heard him singing in the garden .
*She caught him stealing her money .

In each of these sentences the -ing-form is a remnant from an adverbial clause. Such elliptic constructions are common when it comes to expressions of frequently encountered real-life situations in all natural languages

In a few cases, the gerund construction is a device to fuse together two or more closely related clauses into a single sentence . You may know that to-infinitive is sometimes used to fuse together two or more sequentially related clauses into a single sentence . , e.g. He woke up to see his wife missing from his bed . In this sentence three clauses are fused together: He woke up and then he saw that his wife was missing from his bed. The -ing construction does exactly the same job . Example

He sat in the shade of a tree , thinking of his future .
This is the fusion of two clauses , he sat in the shade of a tree and thought of his future

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  1. As a native speaker and current ESL teacher, I just want to let you know how much I enjoy reading your posts. Having never been formally taught how to teach, I'm learning more every day about structures and grammar forms that I have always taken for granted. Your posts are terrifically informative and particularly helpful when explaining these concepts to my higher level students.

    Thank you so much for this blog! I look forward to your future posts.

  2. This is not the first of your posts I've read, and you never cease to amaze me. Thank you, and I look forward to reading more.

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