Grammar : gerunds


New Member
Hello everyone.
I was wondering : how do you translate English gerunds into Korean ?
For instance, if I say "Meeting friends is funny", "Eating an apple is healthy", etc...
I really don't know how to translate gerunds into Korean, so I decided to post a thread here so that Korean speakers can help me ^^

Thank you !!
  • 조금만

    Senior Member
    English - England
    First of all, a word of caution. It isn't possible to "translate gerunds" from one language into another, except maybe where both languages indubitably have a well-defined word class called "gerund" and a single 'gerund-generating' procedure in all contexts. How useful "gerund" is as a word-class term in English (as distinct from Latin and other languages grammatically much closer than English to Latin) is a matter of some debate, but let's not worry about that, because it's on the Korean side that the real problem arises.

    Essentially, although Korean obviously has means of doing what gerunds do in English, it doesn't have a single "drop in" equivalent of the English gerund word-class. How you tackle getting an English gerund into Korean depends very much on what you are trying to express.

    There are two main types of Korean pattern that do the job of gerunds (but also do other things as well). They are both generally termed "nominalizers" and since a gerund is essentially a verb that's been turned into a noun, when we have a Korean verb or adjective (i.e. in the specific Korean sense of 'adjective', sometimes called a 'descriptive' or 'stative' verb) that's been turned into a noun via a nominalizer, it might seem reasonable to call that a gerund in Korean too, and some textbooks actually do just that. But in my view it's not a good idea, because is masks the extent to which production of gerund-equivalents is only one small part of what Korean nominalizers do, as well as the fact that the two main nominalizers are not always interchangeable, so that there is no single process we could call 'forming a gerund' in Korean.

    Coming to your examples: I'll take the liberty of altering your "Meeting friends is funny" into "Meeting friends is fun" since I suspect that's what you really meant.

    The nominalizer Koreans most frequently use to turn verbs into nouns in a context like this, where the verb to be nominalized is functioning either explicitly or (in your examples) implicitly as the object of an expression of seeing, knowing, hearing, understanding, liking or thinking etc (both your examples imply an initial "I think that") is 것, often abbreviated to simply 거 (or where the 'topic' marker is attached, 것은, very frequently abbreviated to 건).

    Exactly what you do with a predicator to link it with 것 for nominalization depends on whether the predicator is an adjective (=descriptive verb) or a verb. If we use 만나다 for "to meet", that's a "verb" in the Korean sense of a predicate specifying an action or change of state, so we add the processive modifier ~는 to the verb base, giving 만나는, then follow it with 것, 거, 것은 or 건, giving us (say) 만나는 건. This then takes an object just like the verb from which it's derived (in the prior position, of course) and is followed by the predicate, giving us (in the 'plain' speech style) 친구를 만나는 건 재미이다. A similar process gets us to 사과를 먹는 건 건강에 좋다 for your second example.

    An example with the governing verb of perception/cognition/judgement being explicitly present would be (in the polite style for a change) 재하가 신문을 읽는 걸 [=것을] 봤어요. I chose that example quite deliberately though, to illustrate why 'nominalizer' has a much broader scope than 'gerund'. In the equivalent English sentence, 'I saw Jaeha reading the newspaper' we would say that "Jaeha" was the object of the verb "to see" and in a language that marked cases, we would put Jaeha into the accusative. And yet in Korean, if Jaeha is to be marked at all in this particular sentence structure, it must be with the "subject" marker, because from a Korean syntactic perspective, Jaeha is NOT the object of 보다 here. The object of 보다 is the entire nominalized phrase 재하가 신문을 읽는 걸 and hence the nominalizing form 것 gets the object marker, becoming 걸 or 것을 to show that the whole of the phrase that 것 has turned into a noun-equivalent is the object of the sentence-ending verb. Within the boundary of that nominalized phrase, Jaeha is the subject of 읽다 (only) and is marked as such. To isolate merely the two words 읽는 걸 and describe them as 'a gerund' would be to misstate the much wider scope of the nominalization that's at work within the actual sentence.

    Of course, we could re-organize things so that Jaeha indeed became the direct object of 보다, giving us 신문을 읽는 재하를 봤어요, but in that case we have removed our nominalizer and replaced it with an embedded relative clause, with the most plausible English translation being "I saw JH who was reading the newspaper". If we suppress the relative pronoun and finite verb in that translation, we indeed get back to "I saw JH reading the newspaper" but that actually illustrates why some English grammarians regard the "gerund" as a tricky word class in English, since it can sometimes be analysed as standing for a contracted relative clause. In Korean, the two sentences, though describing the same state of affairs, are grammatically quite distinct.

    I said there were two main nominalization methods, and the one I've just outlined is not the one most grammar books will point you to. That honour goes to the ~기 particle added to the verb base, and it's that form that grammar books that do use the term "gerund" tend to label as 'the gerund' in Korean. However, the same problem with that terminology arises as with nominalization via 것, namely that the nominalizing scope of ~기 when attached to a verb base often extends way beyond the verb itself, so isolating the nominalized verb base as "a gerund" can be seriously misleading.

    I've gone into such detail about this apparently 'minority' form because although the range of governing verbs it can appear with is limited, these verbs are extremely common, and therefore so is 것 as a nominalizer. I don't pretend to know enough Korean to say with any confidence when nominalization via 것 and ~기 are interchangeable (as they often are) and when one or the other is either preferable or mandatory (as is sometimes the case). I can say, though, that quite a few of the 'rules' commonly stated in text books on that point don't match my own observations of the ways real Koreans speak or write...
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