Monday, March 21, 2016

The form and uses of the perfect gerund

Last time we took up the perfect infinitive as a grammatical form that, in tandem with the main verb of a sentence, either refers to things that might have happened in the past, as in “The board seems to have lost confidence in you,” or to an action that will be completed at some point in the future, as in “The company hopes with great expectations to have finished its restructuring by April.” This time we will take up in greater detail the form and uses of the perfect gerund.

Recall that a gerund is a verb form with “-ing” affixed to it to make it function as a noun, as in the sentence “The therapist suggested jogging as a simple antidote to lethargy.” Here, “jogging” is a gerund that serves as the direct object of the verb “suggested.” It has no tense and does not in itself indicate the time when its action takes place.

simple gerund can refer to the same time as that of the verb in the main clause, as in “She loves listening to classical music” (where the act of “listening” happens at the same time as “loving” it), or it can refer to a time before that of the verb in the main clause, as in “He regretted not joining the literary club when he was in college” (where the decision of  “not joining the literary club” obviously happened before “regretting” that decision).

In contrast, a perfect gerund differs from the simple gerund in two respects: (1) It always refers to a time before that of the verb in the main clause, and (2) It is only used if the occurrence of the action expressed by the gerund is not obvious from the context of the statement.

The perfect gerund has the form “having been + past participle of the verb,” as in this example: “She deniedhaving been divorced.” Here, the perfect gerund “having been divorced” is used to make it unmistakably clear that such marital status refers to a time before the woman’s denial. On the other hand, in the sentence “She denied being divorced,” the simple gerund “being divorced” is used to indicate that the woman was indeed not a divorcee precisely at the same time that she denied it.

Perfect gerunds of certain verbs can also take the passive form, as in “She complained of having been unfairly bypassed for promotion.” Here, the passive perfect gerund “having been unfairly bypassed” functions as a complement of the verb “complained.” The sense is that the bypassing of the woman for promotion happened at a time before that of the verb “complained.” (By the way, that sentence using the passive perfect gerund is the equivalent of the complex sentence “She complained that she has been unfairly bypassed for promotion,” where the present perfect passive form “has been unfairly bypassed” is used.

A special form of the perfect gerund is “having been,” where the verb “be” in the perfect gerund isn’t followed by the usual action verb but by a noun or noun phrase instead. As I had taken up very briefly in Jose Carillo’s English Forum in 2011, this form is used to denote a state or condition that no longer subsists at the time of speaking, as in these sentence constructions:

1. A sentence using a perfect gerund as subject: “Having been a student journalist is a big advantage to mass communication majors.”

2. A sentence using a perfect gerund as object of the preposition “about”: “Edna very seldom talked about having been a beauty queen.”

3. A sentence using a perfect gerund as direct object of the verb: “The former long-serving CEO hated having been a dummy all along.”

This winds up our two-part discussion of the perfect infinitive and the perfect gerund.

This essay first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times in its February 13, 2016 issue, © 2016 by Manila Times Publishing. All rights reserved.

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