assist in + gerund


New Member
English, United States
Hello! I am somewhat of a novice at English grammar and am trying to identify some parts of the following sentence:

My friend says fish oil pills may assist people in preventing a heart attack.

A few specific questions:

I know that "preventing" is a gerund, but is "preventing a heart attack" a gerund phrase?

Also, is this gerund/gerund phrase serving as part of the direct object?

With all these new grammatical terms, I have worked myself into a very confused state! I would appreciate any clarification. Thanks for your help!
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Welcome peanutbutter. :)

    Yes, I would call "preventing a heart attack" a gerund phrase. I suppose you could also call it a participial phrase functioning as a noun, but "gerund phrase" is shorter.

    I would say that "preventing a heart attack"is the object of the preposition 'in', and that this prepositional phrase functions as an adverb. That is, it tells us something about the verb, "assist".

    There are many ways to analyze grammatical function, and differences in terminology to go with them. I believe that this is consistent with the terminology you are learning, but if it isn't clear, please ask again.

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Welcome, peanutbutter.

    That's right, "preventing" is a gerund. It is rather like an action made into a noun. As it is a noun, it can be the object or subject of a verb (as well as other things). It can have modifiers of course, as in your example, and together they form a gerund phrase: "preventing a heart attack". This becomes like a big noun.

    Although gerunds can be the the direct object of a verb, in this case its part of a prepositional phrase modifying "assist". Note that "preventing.." is prepositioned by "in"; if an object follows a preposition it cannot be the direct object of the verb (unless you count phrasal verbs, e.g.: "he buttoned up his shirt"). It is usually considered the object of the preposition in this case. The direct object here, though, is "people" (direct objects come straight after the verb). The phrase "in helping..." tells us more about how the object (people) are assisted.

    Here's are some examples of gerunds as direct objects, where the gerund directly follows the verb ("my" in the first example becomes part of the gerund phrase, as it modifies the gerund):
    "I hope that you appreciate my offering you this opportunity."
    "I suggested taking a walk."
    "I enjoy skiing."


    New Member
    English, United States
    Cagey and Matching Mole:

    Thank you so very much for your help!! This makes a lot of sense. As I understand it now, "in preventing a heart attack" is an adverbial that modifies "assists" and, more specifically, is a prepositional phrase. "Preventing a heart attack" is a gerund phrase, and is also the object of the preposition "in."

    I am actually studying usage of the word "assist" and find that it most frequently occurs with this kind of collocation.

    Again, thank you. I'm very grateful for this forum!


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The 'in'-phrase could be part of the direct object in a different meaning. For example:

    She assists people in distress.

    Here 'people in distress' is what she assists - it's the object of the verb. The preposition phrase 'in distress' is attached as a modifier to 'people'. But this is not so in your sentence: there is no such group as 'people in preventing heart attacks'. It can sometimes be hard to decide if the 'in'-phrase is part of the object. For example:

    She assists people in hospitals.

    Is it 'people in hospitals' that she assists? Or is it people that she assists, and she does it in hospitals (separate 'in'-phrase)?
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