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Gerund (Γερούνδιο) and Infinitive (Απαρέμφατο) in the Greek tree

There is no gerund in Greek. There is the active participle that has the same function as a gerund, and is formed by adding -όντας or -ώντας to the verb root. E.g.

Κερδίζει χρήματα δουλεύοντας (She earns money by working) Τρώγοντας έρχεται η όρεξη (Appetite comes by/while eating)

The 'Gerund' skill in the Greek tree does not teach that however; it rather sort of teaches how English gerund sentences are translated into Greek. Thus, I am not sure if 1) this skill offers anything new, and 2) if the answer to no. 1 is yes, whether this is the proper name for it.

Things are somewhat better with the infinitive skill; while in (modern) Greek the infinitive is not used (save for some archaïc expressions perhaps), it exists. And it is usually substituted by sentences using the subjunctive. That is what the so called Infinitive skill teaches. So, this is a useful skill, but I am not sure if this is also the proper name for it.

I am not trying to doubt all the great work the Greek for English team is doing of course; and I know that such big changes may not be possible at the moment. I am rather starting a discussion on things that could be different in a future Greek tree 2.0. :-)

November 28, 2016



To start at the end let me assure you that no one is doubting the integrity of your interest in the course. Furthermore, your acknowledgment of our efforts is greatly appreciated. You are right on the mark with your interest in how things can be different in Greek tree 2.0.

So, now to the core of the problem which of course is the gerund in Greek or lack thereof and what this skill is doing here. We recognize that whatever the original reason for including it seems to have been misplaced. I must admit that not much work has been done on it with our attention on wider and more widespread issues. Whether or not it can be eliminated (our ideal choice) is still not known, if it cannot how then can we make it at least a fruitful learning tool. Good questions? We would appreciate any ideas and suggestions you may have.


It is a modern trend among philologist to introduce Gerund to Greek. It is the same as you describe. A controversial point in Greek Grammar. When I was a student this term never told by the language teacher. First met in foreign language class. The origin of the term is Latin of course. And, of course, never used in Ancient Greek. But it is a convenient way to translate phrases from English that already use it. An anglicized Greek translation most likely uses Gerund. The point is: Should we use a term and a grammatical term that the people never used, but it is used by translators? This is a real dilemma (δίλημμα).

BUT the language specialists accept it as it is in Γραμματική της Ελληνικής Γλώσσας by Holton, Mackridge και Φιλιππάκης (1999). So it is just a recent grammatical part of speech. I expect many debates about in the future. But, as usual, real life solves these kind of problems. And the translators are real life, wanted or not. I wish though, the translators could use Greek Greek, not English Greek. But I am not a translator :-) More info in Greek that I googled about, here: http://www2.media.uoa.gr/language/grammar/details.php?id=103

The notice I made is that the writer of this article calls both, Γερούνδιο or Ενεργητική Μετοχή (Active Participle), so he does not make any difference. The other notice is this, in my (very bad :) ) translation: "Το γερούνδιο έχει πάντα επιρρηματική λειτουργία - και επομένως διαφέρει από τους αντίστοιχους σχηματισμούς σε άλλες γλώσσες κατά το ότι δεν έχει κανενός είδους ονοματική χρήση. Επίσης, ποτέ δεν μπορεί να εμφανιστεί ως ρηματικός τύπος μιας κύριας πρότασης: (*Γράφοντας.) αλλά πάντοτε προσδιορίζει το ρήμα μιας πρότασης. Είναι επίσης αδύνατη η συνοδεία του από κάποιον σύνδεσμο που κανονικά εισάγει μια αντίστοιχη επιρρηματική πρόταση:"

(The Gerund always an adverbial use, so it is different from the other formations in other languages in the point that it has no noun use. Also, it can never be appeared as a verbal form in a main sentence: (Γράφοντας), but it always makes clear the verb of a sentence. Also it is cannot be accompanied by a conjunction that can introduce a corresponding adverbial sentence)".

SO: Gerund in Greek ??? I really don't know. Any Modern Greek philologist out there?

I cannot blame the Greek team because they included this topic. It is better to know what is the problem than do not know.

In a few words: The words with the suffix -οντας or -ώντας are Gerund or Active Participle. Is it important for the Greek learners? In a way, no. If they want to speak good Greek without anglicization, yes*. But I think first the problem should be solved in the translations.

(*) My English: Much "Hellenized". :(



In my opinion, it is useless to teach something (gerund) that does not exist in Greek. Of course you can translate a phrase which uses the gerund into Greek but you cannot convey the same meaning.

For example: "I am eating" can be translated as "Τρώω" but if you do not add an extra word such as "now" ("τώρα" ) you cannot convey the full meaning of the English sentence: I am eating now, as we speak and I have not finished yet.


I would have agreed with you that there is no Gerund in Greek if I hadn't seen it mentioned in various places and hadn't read the post by Stergi3 above. Check it out and the link he gives. It seems that there are some who assign the name Gerund to anything in English ending "ing" "I am eating." is not Gerund in English (nor Greek) but such sentences have been included in the "Gerund skill" as such. We'll have to work on that.


I am sorry, my example was present continuous and not gerund. After studying* English for many years, I seem to have forgotten the rules of grammar.

*This is a proper gerund!


Now that I think of it, and although I may have expessed myself otherwise in other posts on this thread, is it possible that the -ing verbal forms in the present continuous are gerunds and that this is the way the continuous tenses are formed (simple tenses of to be + gerund)? I am not a native English speaker, I don't know anything about that, I just got this idea because there are similar constructs in roman languages, e.g. Italian or Spanish. Here is the relevant article from the Italian Wikipedia: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perifrasi_progressiva

Apologies for it being in Italian of course, but I see that all the people that are currently taking part in this discussion have some knowledge of Italian. I'll try to find an English counterpart of this link later on.


I looked a bit around, and see that, while in Italian etc. the gerund is what is used to build the progressive/continuous tenses, in English one uses the present participle (which is identical in form to the gerund). And this brings us back to the whole gerund vs. present participle thing that we got into for Greek as well. In fact, the English Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participle#English) says:

The present participle, also sometimes called the active, imperfect, or progressive participle, takes the ending -ing. It is identical in form to the gerund (and verbal noun); the term present participle is sometimes used to include the gerund, and the term "gerund–participle" is also used.

This probably introduces a whole new level to this madness!


OMG this is brilliant and says so much I've been thinking, wondering and fearing.

First that there is no Gerund in Greek. As you say it may be a contrivance of translators to express some English sentence. Why did they have to name it Gerund or at other times "active participle"? English is English and Greek is Greek and there is no reason we need to unify them.

You will have noticed that in the unit here called "Gerund" most of the sentences are "present continuous" "Ενεργητική Μετοχή" as if any time there was an "ing" ending it was determined to be a gerund. NO, no and again no. A Gerund in English can and often is used as a noun whereas it never is in Greek.

Well, we will just have to get the Greek experts on the team to weigh in on whether there is a Gerund in Greek and how it's differentiated from the English so as not to confuse the learners. Most of the sentences in the article:


can be translated into English using a participle. Most are truncated expressions of continuous sentences a very common usage in English e.g. "Φεύγοντας, μας καληνύχτισε." -> "When/As he was leaving, he bid us goodnight."

As with so many changes in all languages the birth of new uses is always painful but we'll either get used to them or remove them. But it seems a bit late to remove them.


I was thinking all the above posted and I googled a little about gerund in different languages and specially in English. I was thinking that understanding well gerund in English I could find out which is the problem in Greek and in translations from English specially. So here some info from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerund

Suppose we are translators from English to Greek and have to translate the example: "Eating this cake is easy" In this case Gerund is a noun actually. One can translate it to Greek: "Το να τρως αυτό το κέικ είναι εύκολο". Another translator: "Το φάγωμα αυτού του κέικ είναι εύκολο". Another one: "Είναι εύκολο να τρως αυτό το κέικ". Never used a (Greek) gerund in this cases. The first translation makes an artificial noun "Το να τρως", there is not such a noun in Greek, even used in translations and not only, article+να+subjunctive, actually I think an Anglicization . So, in just one case the "noun" "eating this cake" just uses a Greek noun, φάγωμα, I don't like it at all as a native Greek speaking, besides that is a so "ugly" word for the case. To me more Greek and precisely the same in English is the third phrase.

Another example: "I like swimming". Translation: Μου αρέσει κολυμπώντας" (no Greek at all), Μου αρέσει το κολύμπι (It is Greek definitively, using the corresponding noun), Μου αρέσει να κολυμπάω (Yes, it is Greek, and good Greek). So, to "save the phenomena" the translator has to use the corresponding noun or subjunctive -να κολυμπάω.

It seems that the translators prefer to use nouns or subjective (with article or not before) to translate the English Gerund.

BUT is the Greek Gerund something different? Well, what about this example: "Τρώγοντας έρχεται η όρεξη". Ι could translate it: "The appetite comes by eating" So I use the English Gerund in the place of τρώγοντας. Is it a good translation? Or is it better: "The appetite comes while I am eating" or "The appetite comes when I am eating"? A bit confused, eh? (Please, feel free to correct my mistakes in English, I have not the real sense of the English language).

Is any correspondence between these two Gerunds, English and Greek? Yes and no.

So is it useful to introduce a Gerund in Greek or just the Active Participle is enough? In order not to confuse the native English speaking.

I don't examine the other languages, as we are in the Greek from English tree.

By the way I googled a lot about and I found just a few posts about Gerund in Greek.

I am desperately :-) asking a specialist and begging to solve this problem :-)

I have a feeling that an English speaking cannot understand easily the use of the verbal formation with the suffix -οντας or -ώντας. Am I wrong?


It seems that the infinitive (απαρέμφατο), to which I only refered briefly, comes also into play here. Some of the sentences you give could be translated with an infinitive, but they would sound too archaïc, more like katharevousa, not proper modern Greek. So they are translated with the subjunctive, as you very well say. In fact, that is the way we "translate" (I don't know if this is the word to use) ancient Greek sentences with infinitive to modern Greek. It seems to me that in ancient Greek the infinitive did both jobs that the English infinitive and gerund do, but I am not sure, I don't consider myself an expert, far from it. It might also be that some English gerund sentences can also be turned into infinitive without other changes, as an example: Saying this would be admitting defeat. = To say this would be to admit defeat.

Another example, with various Greek translations:

Smoking is forbidden It is forbidden to smoke Απαγορεύεται να καπνίζετε (subjunctive translation) Απαγορεύεται το καπνίζειν (infinitive translation; archaïc) Απαγορεύεται το κάπνισμα (translation with a noun)

In this case, the noun κάπνισμα might be similar to φάγωμα, but it is generally accepted. I agree with you that φάγωμα would rarely be used. It seems that some such words have been accepted and commonly used and others less so. Κάπνισμα is OK and so is κολύμπι, φάγωμα not so much.

The whole Τρώγοντας έρχεται η όρεξη thing and whether it should be translated with while, when, etc. is tough indeed, probably because it means more things at the same time. This is referred to in the link you gave above (the uoa.gr one):

Σε προχωρημένα επίπεδα, μπορεί να γίνουν κατανοητές οι επιπλέον αποχρώσεις της ερμηνείας των δομών αυτών (χρονικο-υποθετικές, τροπικο-υποθετικές, εναντιωματικές κτλ.) που προκύπτουν [...]

I'll try and translate:

In advanced levels, one can comprehend the additional nuances of the interpretation of these constructs (temporal-conjectural, manner-conjectural, adversative etc.) that arise [...]

So, I think you might be right, I don't know if the Greek active participle (or gerund, or whatever it is called) is easily understood by English speaking people and thus, if it may be too advanced for the course. But I am Greek, so let's hear from non-Greeks about that.

Also, I took some time to write all these and may have been lost in the way, thus I am not sure if they make any sense at all. If not, apologies :-)


Hi and I was recommended on Greek/English Word Reference to come to your post and I did have to dig as firstly I thought that Duolingo did not do English to Greek other than recently I downloaded the limited iPad version for Greek speakers learning English and then checked the main web site but to make a quick dash to the nub of my problem it is not the learning or understanding of the Gerund but the post by Velisarius on Wordreference.com is pasted below:I agree that it's quite difficult to find information on this topic.

In ancient Greek I believe they used the infinitive for this. The Modern Greek verb system lacks a one-word equivalent to an English gerund (the -ing form that functions as a noun). The structures you have found illustrate how modern Greek deals with that (definite article + να + subjunctive). Is this form found naturally in Greek, or is it simply a handy way (the only way, sometimes,) to translate what in English is usually called the gerund (or -ing form)? I'm interested to hear what native speakers have to say about this.

Το να πηγαίνεις στον κινηματογράφο σε μια άλλη χώρα - Going to the cinema in a foreign country... Το καλύτερο πράγμα σχετικά με το να ζεις σε εξωτικούς τόπους - the best thing about living in exotic places

Verb forms with -όντας/ώντας correspond to the English present participle. Τραγουδώντας περπατάει στην ακροθαλασσιά. - Singing, she walks along the sea-shore. ("Singing" here doesn't behave like a noun, so it clearly isn't a gerund.)

[See a discussion, and especially the comments by Stergi3 at Duolingo - google for "Gerund (Γερούνδιο) and Infinitive (Απαρέμφατο)", where doubt is thrown on the acceptability of a form like Το να πηγαίνεις... I couldn't link to it, sorry.]

So goonhilly, I think that if you want to understand how these are used you might want first to get a clearer idea of present participle and gerund in English (though the distinction isn't always clear and we have to say "the -ing form"). They are translated into Greek in different ways, and it pays to be able to recognise whether you are dealing with a present participle (Seeing my amazement, he laughed...) or gerund (Seeing is the first step to believing).

End and it was the form of "Το να πηγαίνεις ..." that was causing me a problem as apart from Holton and now your post thread that is all I have found. Hopefully you may found a couple of minutes to look at that site and see how this started. I am not a good speaker and have only thus got as far as chapter 13 on Τώρα 1 book and had a Linguaphone course that I have now got to go back to as I got as far as chapter 30 plus I have tried Italki mainly the latter for trying to get some SPEAKING as that is my real aim. A 2 week holiday has got a little improvement but it is trying the poor old Lindonians patience sometimes when I start to speak or try but they are very very patience with me and I have been going out there for over 30 years and only just started to learning the language in the last 12 months. Text and reading to myself is ok as I think I have got up to say GCSE year 4 standard but about year 2 for speaking!!! SO now that I have found duolingo I will see what it has to offer although thus far on my iPad very little as I am not greek learning english but perhaps I will be able to practice pronunciation and some fluency speaking on this site? Sorry to ramble on but hopefully you can get some insight in to a beginners problems


Thank you for your reference to my post! Yes, it is not clear answer if there is a gerund in Greek. The infinitive in Ancient Greek can be translated easily by using the -ing suffix to the root of the verb. But the infinitive had disappeared in Modern Greek and most likely replaced by a noun or by subjunctive (that is, να+verb). Example: "Απαγορεύεται το καπνίζειν" (some labels used this kind of phrase to declare that smoke is not permitted). This phrase is used now in the form: "Απαγορεύεται το κάπνισμα". The first one uses Ancient Greek infinitive, the second the corresponding noun (there was not such a noun in Ancient Greek of course :), the Ancient Greeks were not smokers :) .

So the problem of translation of English phrases that use English Gerund can be solved this way.

But there are cases in Greek where the -so called-Gerund is used. I mean the verbal form in -οντας or -ώντας. How can we translate them to English. I think there is no definite rule, or the rules are too many to memorise that they are useless. A periphrastic translation, I mean a whole phrase that starts with "when" or "while" can solve the problem easily.

I think Gerund has included in the Greek Grammar under the influence of other languages. After all it is a Latin word from the Latin verb "gerere"=to bear, to carry, more here: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=gerund . The old, but effective way to call it as Active participle (Ενεργητική Μετοχή) is enough. Also btw, the Greek students are not taught any Greek Gerund, even now, and I think that it is a scholars issue that makes things more obscure than what they are. Active participle is used to describe an action when or while (or by) another is taking place. Should we call it Gerund? If necessary, to be more understandable by the non-native Greek speakers, why not. This is it and nothing more.

PS. As I am trying to finish the French and Italian tree from English, I found many difficulties to translate to English Gerund (-ing) from these languages, specially the French one, because in Italian it has almost the same use and meaning with the Continuous Present or Past in English. But it is not out subject.


Great things are being discussed here already, very nice!

I think what jaye16 says is true, the "Gerund" skill seems to be trying to teach all kinds of -ing sentences, not even just the gerund ones.

Perhaps this "gerund" skill could be repurposed in the future and teach the phenomenon Stergi3 is describing, if it isn't already covered elsewhere —I think it isn't, but then again being a native speaker I bypassed most of the tree in the beginning and now do the units Duo believes I have to refresh once in a while, sorry for that. Whether it should be called Gerund or Active Participle or something else ( both, maybe?) might not be so big of a problem.


I was really confused about this conjugation and it took me a while to figure out its meaning. It is almost never used in conversation but I have seen it used many, many times in writings like newspapers that translate English text word for word. Besides that, there is really no use for it so I advise that you know the conjugation just for understanding but never use it in speech especially with local Greeks.


This whole discussion is very helpful. Thank you for raising it and for the great responses. In trying to figure out what is going in (Mackridge, The Modern Greek Language, does not use the term gerund, pp, 297-98). I link to this discussion in a post about the matter: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/25017946 Geoffrey Horrocks (Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers [2nd edition; Wiley Blackwell, 2014] 297) writes that the articular infinitive got replaced in the middle ages with the το να clause. "Since it effectively duplicated the function of the indeclinable participle/gerund, it gradually fell out of use." He then punts to a work on the Balkan Sprachbund and the demise of the infinitive. B.D. Joseph (1983) The synchrony and diachrony of the Balkan infinitive: a study in areal, general and historical linguistics (Cambridge).

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