We're covering grammar in English I, and we just got to gerunds. In one of the exercises, I had the sentence "Pilgrims learned about planting crops from the Wampanoags." I'm supposed to find the gerund, and identify its subject in the sentence.

I thought that the gerund would be "planting crops". When I was trying to find its function in the sentence, I used a method my teacher gave me; asking "verb what?" to identify the direct object. This gives "learned about planting crops".

I was wondering, would the function of "planting crops" in the sentence be the object of a preposition, or would the whole prepositional phrase be the direct object (since the gerund acts as a noun).

Or, do I have the whole thing horribly wrong in the first place? =)



  • 5
    To answer the question in your title: Yes, a preposition phrase can be a direct object, but it is relatively rare. E.g. "He considered under the mat an unsafe place for the key" (CGEL, page 246, fn 22). As for the questions in your post, it might be hard for some of us to help because we don't know what kind of grammar you're being taught, nor do we know if this is an EFL course, or a university course for native English speakers, or whatever. You might want to provide the name of the textbook too, and some more info on the grammatical parsing of your example.
    – F.E.
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 6:22
  • 4
    There are different ways of analysing this, but I would say that learn about is a complex verb which takes a direct object, here the NP planting crops (which, as you say, includes a gerund).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 16:08
  • It's a potentially confusing example for someone who's only just being introduced to gerunds. As it happens, in the specific example, the gerund planting does have an object (crops), as that particular gerund often would. But if it had been, say, hunting, there might not be an object at all (there certainly wouldn't with ululating, about which the Wampanoags might also have taught the Pilgrims). OP would not be well served by coming away with the impression that gerunds "should" have "objects". Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 16:15
  • "He considered under the mat an unsafe place for the key" - see the first annotation above - is a very untypical and unusual example for a direct object in form of a preposition phrase as the sentence is elliptic. Normally one would say "He considered the place under the mat as an unsafe place for the key."
    – rogermue
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 6:38
  • 2
    @rogermue, one most certainly would not. That is a highly stilted and clumsy sentence, whereas “He considered under the mat an unsafe place for the key” is fairly straightforward. There is no ellipsis. Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 21:30

2 Answers 2


I think you see the whole thing totally wrong.

A direct object never has a preposition.

  • I'm reading a novel - a novel is a direct object. You ask: What am I reading?
  • I'm waiting for the bus - for the bus is a prepositional object You ask: What am I waiting for?

In your sentence "Pilgrims learned about planting crops from the Wampanoags." "about planting crops" is a prepositional object and "from the Wampanoags" is a second prepositional object.

Maybe English grammars have other terms, but that's the way I see it.

  • 6
    Actually, about planting crops and from the Wampanoags are both prepositional phrases, not objects. Planting crops and the Wampanoags, by contrast, are noun phrases that are objects of a preposition, not direct objects of a verb. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 19:39
  • What do you understand by prepositional phrases. "a prepositional phrase" is no sentence element/part of a sentence. And I know that English grammars speak of prepositons and their object - but that's a confusion of grammar terms. Verbs have objects (sentence element), prepositions don't have objects, at least in my terminology.
    – rogermue
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 19:47
  • 5
    You're confusing constituents with grammatical relations. Prepositional phrases are constituents that are composed of a preposition and a noun phrase that is called the "object of the preposition". Subject, Direct Object, and Indirect Object, by contrast, are relational terms applying to noun phrases in a clause which indicate the grammatical roles each plays with respect to the predicate of that clause. As F.E. pointed out above, a prepositional phrase can be an object, though it's rare; and the object of a prepositional phrase can be a direct object, e,g Bill in Look at Bill. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 20:48
  • Regarding John Lawler's example of "Look at Bill," Bill is indeed a direct object, but "at" is NOT a preposition; it is a particle since the verb is not "look" but "look at" (see Ultimate Phrasal Verbs, 2008, pg 27). EnglishClub.com explains particles this way: To avoid confusing prepositions with particles, test by moving the word (e.g., 'up') and words following it to the front of the sentence: Up the bank four armed men held. If the resulting sentence does not make sense, then the word belongs with the verb and is a particle, not a preposition." Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 12:18

"learned about" is a phrasal verb -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrasal_verb

Pilgrims = subject noun

learned about = phrasal verb

learned about what? planting crops

planting = gerund (Present participle verb form used as a noun - in this case the direct object.)

crops = gerunds may have their own object

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.