Is the sentence below grammatically correct?

Good writing requires hard work.

Or should it read:

Writing well requires hard work.

Can a gerund be modified by an adjective or must it be modified necessarily by an adverb?

If it can be modified by an adjective, when you diagram it, would the good come off of the word writing on the stilt, or would it go below the regular baseline?

1 Answer 1


Don't tell me.
Somebody has taught you that a noun formed from a verb by adding -ing is a gerund.
Indeed, that's what the "gerund" tag above says:

  • Gerund: A noun formed from a verb by the addition of -ing.

Unfortunately, this is not true. A gerund is a verb, not a noun. And it behaves like a verb.
There are nouns formed from verbs with -ing -- as well as other things -- but they are not gerunds.
There are ways to check.

For instance, nouns can take articles and adjectives, while gerunds can take direct objects.
The writing in this book is atrocious. There's good writing and there's bad writing. (noun)
*The writing the novel exhausted her. *Good writing a novel is what you want. (gerund)

In the case of the first sentence, that's the noun writing, which can take an adjective.
In the case of the second, that's the gerund writing, which can take an adverb.

  • 3
    There's an asterisk before ungrammatical sentences. Those are ungrammatical sentences. The definition you learned is wrong. The gerund is not used as a noun; the clause of which it is the main verb functions as a noun phrase, but the gerund itself functions as a tenseless verb form, not a noun. Check the link for more details. Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 0:25
  • 1
    Ok, I checked out the link and am pondering these things. So, a present participle verb can function as a noun but not be a gerund? Is it considered a present participle verbal in this case? A test is---if it can take an adjective, it is NOT a gerund. Is this correct? Can you give me an example of a gerund taking an adverb? Must a gerund be a part of a phrase and have a direct object? I am trying hard to get a grip on this....thank you.
    – Elizabeth
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 1:34
  • 3
    No, no. You misunderstand me. The gerund clause functions as a noun phrase, usually as subject or object of a predicate. But the gerund itself is the verb of the gerund clause, and is not a noun itself. If it were a noun, it could take articles; but since it's a verb, it can take direct objects. Grammar is about constituents, like clauses and phrases, rather than about words. Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 1:40
  • 1
    Since gerund clauses are a type of complement, perhaps this handout on English complement types will be helpful. Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 1:43
  • 3
    @Elizabeth: John Lawler's ungrammatical sentences could be made grammatical by simply omitting the words "The" and "Good." That is, "Writing the novel exhausted her," and "Writing a novel is what you want [to do]." Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 2:09

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