My students often get very confused by the use of “being” and “having” as gerunds. They know that adding –ing to a verb changes it into a gerund. They also know that a gerund acts like a noun and can be a subject, object, or complement of a sentence.
Example: Studying English
- Studying English is important. [studying English = subject]
- I like studying English. [studying English = object]
- I think a lot about studying English. [studying English = object of preposition]
- My favorite thing to do is studying English. [studying English = complement]
However, when we use the gerund “being” plus an adjective, a preposition, or a noun, we are talking about that experience or condition.
What does it mean to say: “Being shy makes life difficult” or “I hate being shy”?
In the above case, the experience or condition of being shy makes life difficult. I hate the experience or condition of being shy.
Here are more examples using “being” with an adjective, a preposition, and a noun:
- Being stuck in between two people is uncomfortable. [Being + adjective]
- Being on an airplane is uncomfortable. [Being + prepositional phrase]
- Being an airline passenger is uncomfortable. [Being + noun]
In each of these cases, the person is complaining about the experience or condition.
If you want to make the situation negative. just add “not” in front of the gerund:
- Not being comfortable makes the trip feel longer. [Not + Being + adjective]
- I am happy not being on an airplane. [Not + Being + prepositional phrase]
- Not being an airline passenger is better for me. I prefer to drive. [Not + Being + noun]
Now you try: Finish each statement with an adjective, a prepositional phrase, and a noun that describes this person’s situation.
Being ___________ is no fun. [adjective]
Not being _______________ makes life
Being ___________ would be scary. [prepositional phrase]
Being ___________ is an important job. [noun]
(Possible answers: sick / well/ in the hospital / a nurse)
Let’s look at the same grammar point using the gerund “having.”
Just like “being,” “having” can act as the subject or object in a sentence. Having is always followed by a noun phrase. We have something.
- Having a big house costs a lot of money. [Having a big house = subject]
- Many people dream about having a big house. [Having a big house = object of a preposition]
- His dream is having a big house. [Having a big house = subject complement]
Again, we are talking about this situation or condition of having a big house.
To make it negative, just add “not” in front of the gerund.
- Not having servants would be difficult if your house were so big!
Here is another example:
- Having too much work stresses him out.
- He hates having too much work.
- Not having too much work would make him so much happier!
What does he have? Too much work. This condition makes him feel stress. He hates this condition.
Now you try. Describe the person’s condition using the gerund “having”. What does the person have?
If you are this person, you ought to worry about having ___________________________.
Not ______________________ would be a much better idea.
(Possible answers: too many credit cards / a lot of debt / having so many credit cards)
Let me end with a cartoon from The New Yorker.