forms in -ing
gerunds and participles in English
►► See also: Consecutive verbs: gerund or infinitive?
1. The different types of word ending in -ing
English language does not use many grammatical "endings", but
some of those it does use have several different functions.
is one of them. Words ending in -ing can be gerunds, verbal nouns, or
present participles. Distinguishing (= gerund) between
these, and using them correctly is not always easy – until
understand these three simple rules.
gerund is a verb
which is used as if it were a noun (Examples 1
& 2 below). Since it is a
verb, it can not be
qualified by an adjective,
nor preceded by an article,
but it can be
modified by an adverb and
take a complement .
noun (Examples 3 & 4) is a noun
formed formed from a verb; some of these end in -ing. It can
take a determiner,
be qualified by adjectives.
part of a participial phrase qualifying a noun or a pronoun.
(Examples 5 et 6). The present participle is also used in the progressive aspect
of verb tenses (Examples 7 & 8).
-ing: Gerund, noun or present participle
- Seeing is
Living cheaply in new York is quite possible.
The book was easy reading !
He managed to make a good living.
Smiling, the lady told them they'd won the big prize.
I heard them arguing last night.
I'm taking my brother to the station tonight
The man was phoning his friend, when the lights went out.
2. The gerund in English : the verb used
as a noun
in English has the form of the present participle in -ing.
It is the most common form of the verb used as a noun, and can be
the subject (examples 1 to 7), or the object of a sentence (8 &
, or follow prepositions (10 to 13)
As the examples above show, the gerund is used as if
a noun, but not in
the same way as
a noun. In other words, it keeps its verbal qualities. Since
is not used like a noun, it cannot be qualified by an adjective; on the
contrary, it keeps some of the essential features that distinguish a
verb, notably that it can take a direct object (examples 2, 6, 7, 12,
13, 14 above)
, and/or be qualified by an adverb (examples 4 ,5 , 12 & 13).
- Seeing is
Reading that book was very interesting.
Drinking is essential
Drinking too much pop can make you fat.
Taking the bus was rather a good idea.
Swimming is very good exercise.
Taking too many aspirins is dangerous.
I really like sailing .
This article really needs rewriting.
He drove two hundred miles without ever stopping.
I look forward to seeing you again next week.
I'm thinking of painting my house.
I started by carefully turning off the electricity
Do you mind shutting the window, please ?
Will you consider taking the job?
I've really enjoyed meeting you.
When gerunds are used as verbal complements
(second verbs following a first verb), as in examples 8 and 9
above, they can often be rephrased using an infinitive instead of the
However a few verbs require a gerund, not an
infinitive (Examples 14 - 16 above). The most common of these are admit, consider, dislike, deny,
enjoy, finish, involve, miss, mind, suggest,
Compare : uses of the infinitive
3. Verbal nouns: nouns that are derived from verbs
There are a large number of ways of creating a noun from a verb: among
the most common of these are words that use the root form of the verb
and a noun ending such as -ment
(as in achievement),
-ance (as in
-ion (as in confirmation) , or -ing (as in The changing of the guard.)
You can see that these -ing forms really are nouns, not verbs, as
they can be qualified by adjectives.
That is a
very nice painting
We're going to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
After a slow beginning, the show got a bit more lively.
This story has a rather unexpected ending..
The commission demanded the breaking up of the company into
two separate units.
The last meeting was not very productive.
4. Areas of possible confusion
Sometimes it is difficult to
decide if a word is a gerund or a verbal noun; and in fact, the quality
of the -ing word can change according to context. Look at
In examples 1 and 2 above, practising is
clearly a gerund;
in example 2 it is followed by a complement, an instrument.
But in example 3
it is preceeded by an adjective regular;
so this time it is being used differently, as a verbal
noun. We can verify this if we try to add a complement, as
in example 4.
It is not possible. We cannot say "For
musicians, regular practising an instrument is essential.".
word cannot simultaneously be preceeded by an adjective and followed by
a direct complement. Other solutions are needed; the ing word must
either be used as a gerund, or as a verbal noun, but not both at once.
So while example 4
does not work, there are two solutions.
- For musicians, practising is
- For musicians, practising an
instrument is essential
- For musicians, regular practising is
musicians, regular practising an instrument is essential.
- For musicians, regularly practising an
instrument is essential.
- For musicians, the regular practising of
an instrument is essential.
uses the word practising
as a gerund, as in examples 1 and 2; and as it is a gerund, it is
modified by an adverb, regularly.
Finally, example 6 rephrases example
5, but using practising
as a verbal noun, not a gerund. We can see that it is a noun, as it is
now part of a noun phrase introduced by an article and
5. Present participles
they can either stand alone, before or after their noun, as the
situation requires, or else they can be part of an adjectival phrase.
are often used to make a shortened form of a subordinate clause
(Examples 1 and 3 below): these elliptical phrases may come before the
noun or pronoun (e.g. Looking
out of the window, I saw ....) or after it (e.g. I saw the tornado
However, when the participle phrase is a
shortened form of a relative
clause, it MUST come after the noun (examples 4 &
Present particples are also used to
form the progressive forms of present and past tenses (Examples 8 - 10)
out of the window, I saw the tornado coming.
In the course of the coming week, I have three interviews to go to.
I saw the child standing in the middle of the road.
The people living next door are very friendly.
living next door people are very friendly is impossible
This is a seriously interesting book.
The winning team will go through to the finals.
The team winning in the first round will go through to
I was looking out of the window when I saw the tornado
At the moment, he's living in Bristol.
The company has been doing very well for the past two years.
Active and passive
Gerunds and participles are most commonly used in the active voice;
they can however be easily used in the passive
too. Examples 1 - 3 : gerunds, examples 4 & 5 participles.
- Being seen is more important
than being heard.
He drove two hundred miles without ever being stopped.
- They began their holiday by getting hopelessly lost.
- Everyone watched the building getting
- At the moment they're being sold at half