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Gerund / Participle (-ing form, gerund-participle)

Is there a difference?Noun? Verb? Gerund? Participle?

 

Is a word ending in -ing a noun, a verb, a gerund or a participle?  Compare.

EXAMPLE 1 EXAMPLE 2 EXAMPLE 3 EXAMPLE 4

The beginning of the movie was confusing.

We are beginning the movie at 8:00. 

Beginning a movie requires a click of the play button.

The student was in a beginning film-making class.

 

 

 
A NOUN   –ING A VERB  –ING

If it is a noun, it will (1) accept a determiner (article), (2) pluralize [unless it is noncount], (3) accept modifiers, (4) function as a subject or object of a clause or prep. phrase.

If it is a verb, it will (1) inflect for number, (2) inflect for tense, (3) and may inflect for person [3rd per. sing.], (4) accept adverb modifiers.

A  noun with an -ing ending is uncommon, for example, breaking, blessing, ending, killing, landing, painting, reading, meeting). This is a true noun not a gerund.  See Nouns Ending in -ing.

A verb with an -ing form is part of a verb group (progressive) that expresses aspect—how an activity  relates to to the flow of time (ongoing, continuous, repetitive, habitual). It is also called a present participle or a secondary verb. See Verb Group.      

COMPARE:  
DETERMINERS DETERMINERS

A noun accepts a determiner.

The beginning / This beginning / His beginning / A beginning

A verb does not accept a determiner.

NUMBER NUMBER

A noun inflects for number. It pluralizes.

The beginning / Those beginnings / Some beginnings

verb inflects for number. In a verb group, be inflects for number but the participle does not¹.)

We are beginning the movie.

He is beginning late.

AGREEMENT  

A noun is singular or plural in agreement with the verb

This beginning is difficult.

These beginnings are difficult.

verb inflects for tense. (Note that be inflects for tense but the -ing form does not¹.)

The movie is beginning at 8:00 p.m. 

The movies were beginning at 8:00 p.m. 

MODIFIERS MODIFIERS

A noun accepts an adjective before it.

The wild beginning /The sad ending

verb accepts an adverb of manner before or after it.

The movie is promptly beginning at 8:00 p.m. 

The movie is beginning promptly at 8:00 p.m. 

COMPLEMENTS COMPLEMENTS

A noun accepts a prepositional phrase as its complement

The beginning of the movie was slow.

Complements a preposition

Part of the beginning was slow.

A transitive verb takes a noun (noun phrase) as its complement

They are showing the movie.

FUNCTION FUNCTION

A noun functions as a subject or object.

The beginning was good. [subj] 

We liked the beginning. [obj] 

We liked the movie from the beginning. [obj] 

A verb group functions as the predicate.

We are beginning the movie now.

 

 

See A Noun and Nouns Ending in -ing.

See A Verb and Verb Groups–Progressive.

A GERUND  -ING A PARTICIPLE  -ING

If it is a gerund, it (1) will be singular in agreement, (2) will not accept modifiers, (3) will function as the subject or the complement of a verb, (4) may accept a genitive as subject. 

If it is a participle, it (1) can be placed after be or a static verb (e.g., seem, become, appear), (2) accepts a degree adverb [e.g., very or too] (3) can be placed before a noun.

A gerund, -ing form, at the head of a clause (a.k.a. "phrase") is very much like the present participle (prog.) and the participial adjective. It expresses activity in a general, non-specific way. It is also called a secondary verb. See Gerund Nonfinite Clause.

A participle -ing form shares some verbal and some modifier functions. It is also called a participial adjective. See source / receiver (an amusing / amused child) and ongoing / completed (a roasting / roasted chicken)

COMPARE:  
DETERMINERS DETERMINERS

A  gerund does not accept a determiner.

A participle does not accept a determiner.

NUMBER NUMBER

A  gerund does not change for number. It does not pluralize.

[Beginning a new movie] is fun.

[Beginning some new movies] is fun.

A  participle does not change for number. It does not pluralize.

The movie is amusing.

The movies are amusing.

AGREEMENT  

A gerund clause is singular in agreement with the verb.

[Beginning a new movie] is fun.

[Beginning some movies] is fun.

A  participle is neither singular or plural in agreement with the noun.

A beginning student needs help.

Some beginning students need help.

MODIFIERS MODIFIERS

A gerund does not accept modifiers.

(Hyphenated forms may exist.)

Frog-walking him out of the building was rude.

 

A  participle usually accepts a degree adverb before it.

The movie is very / so amusing.

*We saw a very roasting chicken.

See Verb or Adjective?

COMPLEMENTS COMPLEMENTS

A gerund clause is a structure that does not accept complements (though it may include complements within its structure.)

We like [beginning new films].

A genitive² may occur as the subject of the gerund clause.

He resents [their being late].

Depending on a participle's meaning, it may accept a prepositional phrase or infinitive as its complement.

The movie is amusing for us to watch.

The movie is amusing to watch.

 

FUNCTION (WHAT IT DOES) FUNCTION

A  gerund functions as a subject or complement of the predicate.

Beginning is easy.

We enjoy beginning new films.

A  participle functions as a modifier or predicate adjective (complement).

It complements a be-like verb.

The movie seems / appears / becomes amusing.

See Gerunds.

See  Verb or Adjective? and Participles.

 

Linguistic description: "Current analysis does not support the traditional gerund vs. participle distinction. Instead, it is analyzed as one form -ing that functions in multiple ways." —Huddleston 3 §1.5   See Gerund-Participle Merge in Grammar Notes.

 ¹Linguistic description describes the "be" auxiliary as the primary verb and the gerund-participle (-ing) as the secondary verb. [This means that "be" is the main verb in the verb group. This differs from traditional grammar description in which the -ing verb is the main verb.]

²a gerund-participle that functions as the subject or the predicate complement may include a subject within the nonfinite clause in the form of a genitive (possessive) (e.g. His planning saved us time.  Her leaving early was upsetting. We attended IBM's meeting.)

verb or modifier—They are entertaining. See A Participle Modifier: is it a verb or an adjective?

syncretism (N) exists when a word appears identical in form but has different uses or functions. That is, the above forms all end in the same form -ing and appear identical, but they are different in use.

Also see Noun Properties | Verb PropertiesGerunds–Nonfinite | Function vs. Category

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing for Properties

Noun, Verb, or Adjective?

 

 

Test for a Noun (Noun Properties)

 
NOUN PROPERTIES

Traditionally, a gerund is understood as a noun (N) derived from a verb (V). However, there are important differences between the categories of Noun and a Gerund.

CAN IT ACCEPT A DETERMINER / PLURAL?

The introduction of the movie was bad. [yes]

The beginning¹ of the movie was bad.  [yes]

Those beginnings were terrible.  [yes]

"The first part of the movie…"    [a noun – yes]

CAN IT BE MODIFIED BY AN ADJECTIVE or CLAUSE?

The bad beginning will be changed.  [yes]

The beginning that was bad will be changed.  [yes]

CAN IT FUNCTION AS A  SUBJECT OR OBJECT?

The audience liked the beginning.  [yes]

Are you interested in the ending? [obj. of PP– yes]

GERUND (NONFINITE GERUND-PARTICIPLE CLAUSE)

Note that a gerund shares the property of being able to take the subject or object position, but differs in that it cannot take a determinative or adjective modifier.

CAN IT ACCEPT A DETERMINER / PLURAL?

Beginning a movie on time is important to viewers.

*The beginning² a movie on time is important to viewers. [gerund–no] 

*Those beginnings movies on time are important to viewers. [gerund–no] 

"The process of beginning a movie on time…"

CAN IT BE MODIFIED BY AN ADJECTIVE or CLAUSE?

*Good ending a movie is necessary for its success. [gerund–no!] 

*Ending that is good a movie is necessary for its success. [gerund–no!] 

CAN IT FUNCTION AS A  SUBJECT OR OBJECT?

The director likes beginning with a flashback. [a gerund-yes] 

Beginning a movie with a flashback is what he likes. [a gerund-yes] 

He plans on beginning the movie with a flash back? [a gerund-yes] 

 

 

 

 

Test for a Verb (Verb Properties)

 
VERB PROPERTIES

In some cases, it is difficult to tell an -ing verb from a participial modifier.

DOES IT COMBINE WITH "BE" TO EXPRESS THE PROGRESSIVE?

The actor is entertaining [yes-ongoing activity]

 

DOES IT ACCEPT AN ADVERB OF MANNER?

The actor is cleverly entertaining  [yes] (manner)

The actor is entertaining cleverly.  [yes] (manner)

DOES IT ACCEPT A NOUN PHRASE COMPLEMENT?

The actor is entertaining us.   [yes] (true for transitive verbs)

PARTICIPIAL MODIFIER

Participial modifiers share the properties of complementing be and static verbs. However, a participial modifier cannot take an object (NP) as its complement. 

OR DOES IT COMPLEMENT A "BE" OR STATIC VERB?

The actor is entertaining  [yes]

The actor seems / appears/ becomes entertaining.  [yes]

OR DOES IT ACCEPT AN ADVERB OF DEGREE?

The actor is very entertaining.  [yes] (degree)

The very entertaining actor took a break.  [yes]

DOES IT ACCEPT A NOUN PHRASE COMPLEMENT?

*The actor is very entertaining us

*The actor is very entertaining man.  [no]

 

 

 

 

Test for an Adjective (Adjective Properties)

 
ADJECTIVE PROPERTIES

Traditionally, a participle is described as an adjective. However, this is problematic. Do participial modifiers have all the properties of adjectives?

CAN IT MODIFY A NOUN?

This fantastic movie makes an strong impression.  [yes]

This movie makes a strong impression.  [yes]

CAN IT COMPLEMENT A "BE" VERB?

The beginning of the movie is fantastic[adjective–yes]

 

CAN IT COMPLEMENT A STATIC VERB?

The movie seems/ appears fantastic[adjective–yes]

CAN IT BE MODIFIED BY A DEGREE ADVERB?

The movie is so fantastic[adjective–yes]

PARTICIPIAL MODIFIER

Participial modifiers ("participial adjectives") for source share many properties with adjectives. However, participial modifiers for process do not.

CAN IT MODIFY A NOUN?

This exciting movie makes a strong impression.  [yes]

This movie makes a lasting impression.  [yes]

CAN IT COMPLEMENT A "BE" VERB?

The movie is exciting.  [source–yes]

Its popularity is growing. [process– yes]

CAN IT COMPLEMENT A STATIC VERB?

The move seems boring. [source–yes]

*Its popularity seems growing. [process– no]

CAN IT BE MODIFIED BY A DEGREE ADVERB?

The movie is very / so boring[participle for source–yes]

*Its popularity  is very / so growing. [participial modifier of process– no]

 

¹ the beginning / the ending (N) – the first or final part of something. These are nouns with the -ing noun suffix (true nouns).

² beginning / ending (gerund) – the process or action taken to begin/ terminate something

Also see Adjective Suffixes and   Verb or adjective?   (Testing for adjective properties)

(Huddleston 14 §4.3)

 

 

Summary Examples

NOUN VERB

A gerundial noun is a true noun that happens to have an -ing suffix, and it functions as a subject or object.

A participle (-ing) form  combines with an auxiliary to form the progressive aspect.

The beginning of the movie was confusing.

We are beginning the movie at 8:00.  (So be on time!)

the breaking, blessing, ending, killing, landing, painting, reading, meeting

is breaking, blessing, ending, killing, landing, painting, reading, meeting 

GERUND PARTICIPLE

A gerund functions as a subject, object, or complement of the predicate.

A participle functions as a modifier that expresses source, process, or function of the (head) noun.

Beginning a movie requires a click of the start button.

The student was in a beginning film-making class.

enjoy breaking, blessing, ending, killing, landing, painting, reading, meeting 

be/seem very amusing, exciting, frustrating, pleasing, surprising. (source)

a breaking, falling, rotting, loving  noun (process)

a talking, sleeping, moving, hiking, marking noun  (functionality)

 

In linguistic description, the -ing form is called the gerund-participle form (in contrast to the -ed form, which is the past participle form; and to + verb, which is the infinitival plain-form.) See Grammar Notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

► Show Grammar Notes? (Gerund-Participle Merge) ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Description

 

 

 

Gerund-Participle— a merged term for the -ing form with multiple functions

Current analysis does not support the traditional gerund vs. participle distinction. Instead, it is analyzed as one form, -ing, that functions in multiple ways.  (Huddleston 3 §1.5)

(1) Category—  The -ing word form is derived from a verb. The category (part of speech) of a word  is different from its function. A gerund is not a noun, but it can function in a similar way.   A participle is not an adjective, but it can function in a similar way.   Gerund-participle is the merged term for this -ing word form. "The compound term serves also to bring out the relationship between this form and the past participle: the gerund-participle has a considerably larger distribution than the past participle…"

(2) Function — The gerund-participle or -ing form can function as a subject (NP), verb complement (VP), subordinate (adjunct or supplement). (Huddleston  1173)  Or according to Biber, it can function as—subject, extraposed subject, subject predicative, direct object, prepositional object, adverbial, part of noun phrase, part of adjective phrase, complement of preposition. (Biber 198)

 

 

 

(1) The "gerund-participle" place within the linguistic verb description

A "gerund-participle" is a form within the category Verb. It is a Secondary Verb within the category Verb.

PRIMARY VERB – FINITE

Primary (finite) verbs can be inflected for tense, person and number. That is to say, they are marked by tense (usually -ed in past) and number (usually -s for 3rd person).                                                                                                                                                                        

VERB FORM

The dog sleeps outside. [a true verb]

 

 

 

 

SECONDARY VERB – NONFINITE

Secondary (nonfinite) verbs are not marked for tense, aspect, mood, number and person.  For this reason, it cannot serve as a predicate, nor can it be used in an independent clause (unless combined with an auxiliary verb such as is, are can, may, will.

GERUND-PARTICIPLE FORM

Sleeping outside is fun for kids.  [subject]

The sleeping kids will be cold in the morning.  [modifier]

The kids are sleeping outside tonight. [part of the predicate, a verb form]

The kids are interested in sleeping outside tonight. [complement to preposition]

INFINITIVAL (PLAIN) FORM

Kids like to sleep [object (pred. complement)]

The night air helps them (to) sleep. [predicate complement)]

PAST-PARTICIPLE FORM

Some warmed milk is calming before bedtime.  [modifier]

 

(Huddleston 3 §1.8)

 

 

 

(2) Function

Rather than focusing on whether an -ing form is a participle or gerund, focus on its function.

SUBJECT PREDICATE

A nonfinite gerund-participle clause serves as the subject of the clause.

A participle form completes the verb group in a finite clause. 

Sleeping outside is fun for kids.

The kids are sleeping outside.

The kidnapping of the children was front-page news.

The kids have been sleeping outside for an hour.

 

 

MODIFIER COMPLEMENT / ADJUNCT

A participial modifier ("adjective") modifies a noun.

A nonfinite gerund-participle clause complements ("completes") the predicate.

The kids are in their sleeping bags

The kids enjoy sleeping in the backyard. 

The sleeping kids will be cold in the morning.

The kids aren't interested in sleeping

 

We watched the kids sleeping¹.

 

¹ subordinate nonfinite clause– We watched the kids. They were sleeping.=  We watched the kids (who were) sleeping. (a subordinate who-clause)

 

Word Categories: N – Noun; V – Verb; Aux – Auxiliary; Adj – Adjective; Adv – Adverb; P –Preposition; Det –Determiner.

Phrasal Categories: NP – Noun Phrase; VP – Verb Phrase; AdjP – Adjective Phrase; AdvP – Adverb Phrase; PP – Prepositional Phrase; DP – Determinative Phrase.

Clausal Categories: Cls – clause; F – finite clause; NF – nonfinite clause (Ger – gerund; Inf – infinitive; PPart – past participle).

Word Functions: Subj – subject; Pred – predicate/predicator; Compcomplement: elements required by an expression to complete its meaning (DO – direct object; IO – indirect object);  Adjunctadjunct: elements not required by an expression to complete its meaning (Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator); Suplsupplement: a clause or phrase added onto a clause that is not closely related to the central thought or structure of the main clause.

 

 

Works Cited

  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Forest Renewal

Renewal of burn area
 

 

Read the Context

After a forest fire, the blackened landscape is startling. The strange-looking scenery draws people to the area of devastation. They look to see what is left, and they hope for renewal.  The scene is both an ending and a beginning in the cycle of nature.

Hikers have to be careful when walking through an area with heavily damaged trees. Falling trees and breaking branches injure and kill people each year. The walkers are often looking ahead and not paying attention to what is hanging overhead. 

While the burning of bushes and grass under trees is a normal part of the cycle of nature, the blackened ground looks anything but natural.

It may take a year or two for grass and wildflowers to begin growing again. In the meanwhile, rain can wash away topsoil, which prevents grass from reseeding.  Homes on hills or mountains are also in danger of sliding away. 

Fortunately, plants are self-renewing. Some have seeds that can survive fire storms. Others have seeds that are easily carried or blown into the burn area. The reseeding of the area starts immediately as the wind, insects and birds drop seeds in the area.  Light rainfall and more light reaching the ground are favorable conditions for regeneration. Soon afterwards, grass will be growing and small creatures will be returning. The fascinating cycle of life goes on and on.

blacken (V) — make something black

creatures (N) — animals, insects, life forms

cycle (N) — circular process, starting over, occurring again

damaged (Adj) — broken, harmed, not whole, not complete

devastation (N) — destruction

draw (V) — attract, make people want to do something

injure (V) — hurt or harm

landscape (N) — surrounding area, scenery

prevents (V) — stops, gets in the way of, hinders

regeneration (N) — the starting over, regrowing

renewal (N) — the process of becoming new again; starting over

reseed (V) — put seeds or spores into the ground again (re-seed); re-plant

scene (N) — what you can see in an area, the surrounding area

seed (N) — an ovule or spore produced by a plant that produces  new plants

self-renewing (Adj) — having the quality of being able to re-new, begin again

slip (V) — lose a foothold or position; move, fall down unexpectedly

slide (V) — pass or fall gradually

startling — very surprising, upsetting

topsoil (N) — the fertile upper soil or earth (where grass grows)

 

 

What is the function of the -ing form?

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-15" button.

 

1.
After a forest fire, the blackened landscape is startling.

startling is









source
2.
The strange-looking scenery draws people to the area of devastation.

The word form strange-looking is








3.
They look to see what is left, and they hope for renewal. The scene is both an ending and a beginning in the cycle of nature.

The word forms ending and beginning are










Noun suffixes
4.
Hikers have to be careful when walking through an area with heavily damaged trees.

The word form walking is








5.
Falling trees and breaking branches injure and kill people each year.


The word forms falling and breaking are








6.
The walkers are often looking ahead and not paying attention to what is hanging overhead. 


The word forms looking and paying are










Present Progressive
7.
While the burning of bushes and grass under trees is a normal part of the cycle of nature, the blackened ground looks anything but natural. 


The word form burning is










Noun suffixes
8.
It may take a year or two for grass and wildflowers to begin growing again.


The word form growing is










Verb + Gerund
9.
In the meanwhile, rain can wash away topsoil, which prevents grass from reseeding


The word form reseeding is









10.
Homes on hills or mountains are also in danger of sliding away.  


The word form sliding is









11.
Fortunately, plants are self-renewing. Some have seeds that can survive fire storms. Others have seeds that are easily carried or blown into the burn area.


The word form self-renewing is









12.
The reseeding of the area starts immediately as the wind, insects and birds drop seeds in the area.


The word form reseeding is










Noun suffixes
13.
Light rainfall and more light reaching the ground are favorable conditions for regeneration.


The clause reaching the ground is




14.
Soon afterwards, grass will be growing and small creatures will be returning.


The word forms growing and returning are








15.
The fascinating cycle of life goes on and on.


The word form fascinating is