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I have a conlang with a very simple grammar. All words are "base words" and start and end with a consonant, and there are 5 vowel suffixes to convert those base words to the 5 forms of words (to simplify a bit):

  1. -i: actions (verbs)
  2. -e: manners (adverbs)
  3. -a: objects (nouns)
  4. -o: features (adjectives)
  5. -u: prepositions and conjunctions

All actions and objects can take preceding modifiers which don't have a suffix, only the head action/object/feature has a suffix.

I'll just make up some words to keep it simple for this post, but following this pattern. There is a word reC meaning "progress/progression", and it is used as a modifier to actions/verbs, like mek ("make"). "I" is suq and "food" is fud. "Be" is vut. So "I am making food" is basically "I be [progressive] make food", and it might be like suqa vuti reC meki fuda.

I am hugely biased coming from English, so at this point my language closely reflects English's use of things like prepositions and various word forms, but I'm alright with that. But my problem is with "gerunds", which nothing seems to describe what gerunds "mean", only that they are verbs converted into a noun form using -ing. Like "computing is fun". This is different from my "making" in the last example, but how is it different, what does a gerund word actually mean? How can you break it down or distill it into a set of abstract atoms?

  • It is not "progression" the gerund is talking about...
  • Is it the "state" of performing the action or something?
  • What is it exactly?

Then, I can say "Making food is fun", and it be a gerund, but I can't use reC because that is for progression. What is the essence of gerund basically?

My best guess so far would be to say (assuming fun is fan):

  • reC mek fuda vuti fano

That is, it gives a hint at progression, but it treats "making" as a modifier on "food", and the whole thing is a noun phrase.

Does that make sense? Or what would you do, how would you treat the gerunds in a simple system like this?

2 Answers 2

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You can think of a gerund as a nominalisation of a verb, including any objects. So to cook a meal would turn into a gerund, cooking food. (Obviously you can also leave out the object, and cooking could be gerund on its own).

Functionally it is similar to an ininitive clause:

To cook food is fun.

Cooking food is fun.

Technically it describes a process, but as a nominal element, ie it can be used in a sentence where you would use a noun otherwise.

This is different from the progressive form as in your making food example. There you still have a subject (I) and the verb form is am making. With a gerund you don't have a subject (which is why a gerund is a non-finite form, like the infinitive), because the gerund is the subject. Cooking is fun is different from Me cooking is fun.

You could indeed express that with reC meki fuda; that is pretty much analoguous to English.

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Blatantly plagiarising my own answer to a similar question on esperanto.se:

The English gerund (or the -ing form) is a strange beast because it conflates three historically different forms in one. The difference is still preserved in other Germanic languages like Dutch or German

  1. The nominalised infinitive (German das Tanzen, Esperanto danci)
  2. The present active participle (German tanzend, Esperanto dancanta)
  3. A deriviative noun (German -ung, not available for tanzen, but for other verbs, e.g., drehen "turni": die Drehung "turnado")

In Latin grammar, only the first thing is called gerundium.

And Modern English is again special in using the gerund to form the progressive aspect of verbs. The gerund is becoming more frequent over time in English, we probably haven't seen yet its climax.

For a conlang you probably want to separate the different functions of the heavily overloaded gerund.

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  • This still doesn't explain what a gerund word means. It says what it is, but not what the pattern of "meaning" is for the words that are gerunds.
    – Lance
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 19:33

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