07 May 2011

Gerunds are (usually) wrong

Rule: whenever you are given the choice between a gerund and a conjugated verb on either SAT Writing (Fixing Sentences) or ACT English, pick the conjugated verb. If you’re scanning through ACT English or Fixing Sentences answers, you should automatically cross out any options that contain gerunds. If nothing that remains works, then you can go back and reassess, but this strategy will usually get you to the right answer a whole lot faster.

Here’s why: Gerunds can be nasty little critters. They look like verbs. They sound like verbs. They *ought* to be verbs. But they’re not.

Although they are created from verbs, for all practical purposes they are in fact nouns.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, gerunds are built by adding -ING onto verbs

Be —– Being

Have —– Having

Run —– Running

You get the picture. Gerunds are frequently used with the possessive (e.g. “The teacher was annoyed by his incessant talking during class”), although they can also be used with object pronouns (The teacher was annoyed by him talking incessantly during class). The second one has a slightly different emphasis, but it is acceptable.

The possessive vs. object distinction (his vs. him) before a gerund is NOT tested on either the SAT or the ACT.

Since gerunds are not verbs, they cannot replace verbs. A sentence that contains only a gerund is actually missing a main verb. Any sentence on the SAT or the ACT that includes only a gerund is automatically incorrect.

Much of the time, this error will be pretty obvious:

Incorrect: The senator giving a press conference about her decision not to run for re-election.

And the easiest way to fix it is simply to stick in a conjugated verb

Correct: The senator gave a press conference about her decision not to run for re-election.

But sometimes they’ll try to confuse you with multiple clauses or false parallelisms:

Incorrect: The senator, who earlier in the week had publicized her intention to run for re-election, calling a press conference to announce her decision to pursue other political goals.

Correct: The senator, who earlier in the week had publicized her intention to run for re-election, called a press conference to announce her decision to pursue other political goals.

Or:

Incorrect: The senator publicizing her intention to run for re-election but later calling a press conference to announce her decision to pursue other political goals.

It may be parallel, but it’s not correct!

Correct: The senator publicized her intention to run for re-election but later called a press conference to announce her decision to pursue other political goals.

On the other hand, gerunds can be used as subjects because they are actually nouns. When they are used this way, they always take singular verbs.

Correct: Distributing copies of her new book was the mayor’s primary strategy for publicizing her campaign.

Incorrect: Distributing copies of her new book were the mayor’s primary strategy for publicizing her campaign.

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