Quarter Wit, Quarter Wisdom: Attacking Gerunds on the GMAT!

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomA few weeks back, we talked about participles and how they are used on the GMAT. In that post, we had promised to discuss gerunds more in depth at another time. So today, as promised, we’ll be looking at gerunds. Before we do that, however, let’s examine Verbals.

A Verbal is a verb that acts as a different part of speech – not as a verb.

There are three types of verbals:

  • Infinitives – these take the form of “to + verb”
  • Gerunds – these are the “-ing” form of the verb
  • Participles – these can take the “-ing,” “-ed,” “-en” etc. forms

Gerunds end in “-ing” and act as nouns in the sentence. They can act as a subject, direct object, subject complement or object of a preposition. For example:

Running a marathon is very difficult. – Subject
I love swimming. – Direct object
The activity I enjoy the most is swimming. – Subject complement
She thanked me for helping her. – Object of a preposition

You don’t have to identify the part of speech the gerund represents in a sentence; you just need to identify whether a verb’s “-ing” form is being used as a gerund and evaluate whether it is being used correctly.

A sentence could also use a gerund phrase that begins with a gerund, such as, “Swimming in the morning is exhilarating.”

Let’s take a look at a couple of official questions now:

A recent study has found that within the past few years, many doctors had elected early retirement rather than face the threats of lawsuits and the rising costs of malpractice insurance.

(A) had elected early retirement rather than face
(B) had elected early retirement instead of facing
(C) have elected retiring early instead of facing
(D) have elected to retire early rather than facing
(E) have elected to retire early rather than face

Upon reading the original sentence, we see that there is a gerund phrase here – “rising costs of malpractice insurance” – which is parallel to the noun “threat of lawsuits.”

The two are logically parallel too, since there are two aspects that the doctors do not want to face: rising costs and the threat of lawsuits.

Note, however, that they are not logically parallel to “face.” Hence, the use of the form “facing” would not be correct, since it would put “facing” and “rising” in parallel. So answer choices B, C and D are incorrect.

Actually, “retire” and “face” are logically parallel so they should be grammatically parallel, too. Answer choice E has the two in parallel in infinitive form – to retire and (to is implied here) face are in parallel.

Obviously, there are other decision points to take note of here, mainly the question of “had elected” vs. “have elected.” The use of “had elected” will not be correct here, since we are not discussing two actions in the past occurring at different times. Therefore, the correct answer is E.

Take a look at one more:

In virtually all types of tissue in every animal species dioxin induces the production of enzymes that are the organism’s trying to metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical that is irritating it.

(A) trying to metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical that is irritating it
(B) trying that it metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical irritant
(C) attempt to try to metabolize, or render harmless, such a chemical irritant
(D) attempt to try and metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical irritating it
(E) attempt to metabolize, or render harmless, the chemical irritant

Notice the use of the gerund “trying” in answer choice A. “Organism’s” is in possessive form and acts as an adjective for the noun verbal “trying.” Usually, with possessives, a gerund does not work. We need to use a noun only. With this in mind, answer choices A and B will not work.

The other three options replace “trying” with “attempt” and hence correct this error, however options C and D use the redundant “attempt to try.” The use of “attempt” means “try,” so there is no need to use both. Option E corrects this problem, so it is our correct answer.

Unlike participles, which can be a bit confusing, gerunds are relatively easy to understand and use. Feeling more confident about them now?

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Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!