Note: This is not a question about what is the difference between a gerund, verb and participle, interesting as that polemic may be. It is about non-finite clauses, which does bear upon these distinctions but that is not the question at hand.
There is so much confusion about gerunds, and people often think that any use of the present participle outside the continuous tenses is either a gerund or an adjective. When a present participle is used as a simple subject or object, or when it takes a determiner or adjective as a modifier, its noun-like function is clear and obvious, but when does a such a participle stop being being noun-like or even verb-like (which they always are) and become a verb in a non-finite clause?
Baking is my hobby.
My kids need tutoring.
Owning is better than renting.
Swimming has made my physique lean and strong.
These verb forms are all clearly functioning like nouns and qualify as 'gerunds' because they are things or actions as things but this argument seems to be made because subjects and objects are always things. However, they are not always nouns, obviously. You can't reclassify a verb as a noun because it appears in a sentence as a subject or object. And I doubt this could be considered conversion or zero-derivation because participles are already derivative.
But I can add verb complements and modifiers to these, which cause them to behave more or less like nouns and more or less like verbs, all in one go.
Baking cakes in the wee hours is my hobby.
My kids need (their) tutoring (regularly), at least once a week.
Owning a house is better than renting one.
(my) Swimming (everyday) in the lap pool has helped me in building a lean and strong physique.
The words in ( ) are optional simply to show that these participles can be modified as nouns with determiners and adjectives and as verbs with adverbs and adverbial complements all within a single sentence. This rather confounds the idea that participles can be classified as nouns or verbs based on the modifiers they take, and also the notion that gerunds are nouns.
Have I changed these present participles from 'gerunds' to verbs in non-finite clauses? Is is safe to say that present participles are only 'gerunds' when they do not take a complement or am I missing something more specific that determines this distinction? Or, perhaps, even bare participles as subjects or objects are always non-finite clauses? I'm quite confused on this point. But in any case these participles are not functioning as nouns per se, they are rather functioning as subject or objects, and that distinction to me anyway, seems clarifying.
Addendum: As always, my objective is to explore ways to frame complex topics in the simplest of ways for my ESL students, so they are more readily comprehensible, while still remaining in the zone of broadly accepted linguistic concepts terminology. That's not easy, for one because prescriptivists routinely abuse linguistic terminology and concepts, mixing them up and misapplying them. As a result, there is a lot of inconsistency as to how they are applied in the world of on and offline language instruction and reference works, which usually leaves students befuddled and quite literally hating grammar. At least linguists somehow manage to keep these ideas organized in their proper theoretical silos, even while they debate them, which is quite a feat if you ask me.
I don't particularity like the term gerund and would much prefer to call bare present participles, when used as subjects or objects, as 'participle subjects' or 'participle objects'. This would obviate the confusion around calling them verbal nouns or gerunds or the need to reclassify them as nouns (which I think is wrong because they are already derivative). In this article Zero-derivation – Functional Change – Metonymy by Doris Schönefeld there is no mention of participles as examples of conversion.
My question is really about when these participle subjects/objects are properly considered as non-finite clauses. I know that I'm often opening a can of worms, a rabbit hole so to speak with such queries, but as I delve into these topics I consistently find ways to explain them in simple terms that my students can understand. I also rely on the brain's natural capacity to subconsciously organize patterns in language, which allows me to state things as simply as possible, and then to help students observe the patterns and the meaning that develops with various training exercises. None of us needed to understand the linguistic complexity of our first language to become expert at using it. I think the same should be true for second language learners, with a bit of help from a simplified system of grammar but one that is consistent with standard linguistic terms of analysis. This feels a bit Sisyphean at times but I do make progress.
Note to those who think this is a duplicate question: This is not a question about what is the difference between a gerund, verb and participle. It is about non-finite clauses.