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The Differnce Between English and Latin Gerunds

By John Garger

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.