Gerunds, simple and past

 

Q:

What is the difference in meaning between the simple gerund and the past gerund, as in these examples:

(a) Martin denied seeing the accused man on the day of the crime.

(b)

Martin denied having seen the accused man on the day of the crime.

Or, in these examples:

(c) I regret not meeting him earlier in my life.

(d)

I regret not having met him earlier in my life.

Or in these:

(e) After falling down two flights of stairs, Grandma got up, brushed herself off, and went off to her luncheon, as scheduled.

(f)

After having fallen down two flights of stairs, Grandma got up, brushed herself off, and went off to her luncheon, as scheduled.

Inge
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A:

When the verb form is the sole carrier of time-relationship information, there can often be a difference in meaning between the simple and past forms (also termed "perfect forms") of gerunds. When you include time indicators that make the time relationship clear or mix in conventions of reporting speech, there's usually no difference in meaning.

I liken the difference between simple gerunds and perfect gerunds (or simple infinitives and perfect infinitives) to the difference between the simple past and the past perfect. Often the simple past and past perfect communicate the same meaning—and the same is true with gerunds and infinitives.

(1) When a time indicator makes the time relationship clear, there's no difference in meaning between the simple past and past perfect. Sentences (g) and (h) have the same meaning:

(g) After I finished, I left.
(h)

After I had finished, I left.

Similarly, with the participial structure derived from the past perfect and simple past (in the reduction of an adverb clause to a modifying participial phrase), there's no difference between (i) and (j):
(i) After finishing, I left.
(j)

After having finished, I left.

There's no difference in meaning that I can detect between your two examples about Grandma, in sentences (e) and (f) above. "After" makes the time relationship clear and either form is possible and correct.

Similarly, there's no difference in meaning in the following examples that you gave, sentences (c) and (d) above, due to the inclusion of "earlier in my life."

(c) I regret not meeting him earlier in my life.
(d)

I regret not having met him earlier in my life.

Without time-relationship indicators, however, there can often be a difference between a simple gerund and a perfect gerund. Sentences (k) and (l) have different meanings:

(k) I regret not meeting him earlier in my life.
(l)

I regret not having met him earlier in my life.

But if you add time indicators, both forms will have the same meaning:

(m) I regret not being at his side during his illness last winter.
(n)

I regret not having been at his side during his illness last winter.

The same is true, of course, of the simple past and past perfect. Without time indicators, there's a difference in meaning, because the verb form is the sole carrier of information about the time relationship.

(o) I walked into the room. Tom turned on the light.
(p)

I walked into the room. Tom had turned on the light.

(2) The simple past and past perfect are often interchangeable due to verb form conventions in reported speech. To change your other example to reported speech using noun clauses, we get:

(q) Martin denied that he saw the accused man…
(r)

Martin denied that he had seen the accused man…

Martin's words were: "I did not see the accused man." To report those words, the speaker chooses the verb "deny" and then can choose either simple past or past perfect, with the past perfect being more formal, i.e., more likely to be found in written than spoken registers—though either one could be found in either register. Just as the only difference in (q) and (r) is in register, I'd say that's the only difference in your examples, too, with the two different forms accounted for by the verb form conventions of reporting speech:

(a) Martin denied seeing the accused man on the day of the crime.
(b)

Martin denied having seen the accused man of the day of the crime.

In sum, if a gerund is the sole carrier of time-relationship information, there can often be a difference in meaning between the simple and perfect forms. If, however, the time relationship is clear from other time indicators in the sentence or context, or if the form of the gerund relates to conventions of reporting speech, there is likely to be no difference in meaning. At least that's how it would seem to me.

My question is: How much of this information do students need?

Betty Azar

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