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The difference between the gerund and the present participle


present participle

Since the simple gerund and the present participle have the same form (verb-ing), sometimes it can be difficult to decide whether an -ing form is a gerund or a present participle. It may be worth remembering that a gerund always functions as a noun:


Example sentence


Hiking can be a relaxing and rewarding activity.


What I really like is travelling to other countries.

Object of a verb

Jill suggested going for a drink.

Object of a preposition

He rushed out of the room without saying a word.

Object of a prepositional verb

Could you give up smoking?

Part of a compound noun

We had no drinking water left.

The present participle has the following functions:


Example sentence

Continuous aspect

I wasn't listening. What have you been doing? You must be joking. I happened to be passing your house.


The survey revealed some worrying results. The results of the survey were/seemed worrying.

Participle clauses

The man driving the car was not injured. Tom lost his keys (while) walking through the park. Opening the envelope, I found two concert tickets. Having nothing left to do, Paula went home.

Sometimes it is a matter of interpretation whether an -ing form is a gerund or a present participle: Hunting lions can be dangerous. Hunting as a present participle functions as an adjective and describes lions. The sentence means: Lions that hunt can be dangerous. If hunting is a gerund, lions is its object and the sentence means: It can be dangerous to hunt lions.

The Gerund and the Present Participle: 'ING' Form

The '-ing' form of the verb may be a present participle or a gerund. The form is identical, the difference is in the function, or the job the word does in the sentence.

The present participle:

This is most commonly used:

as part of the continuous form of a verb, he is painting; she has been waiting after verbs of movement/position in the pattern: verb + present participle, She sat looking at the sea after verbs of perception in the pattern: verb + object + present participle, We saw him swimming

as an adjective, e.g. amazing, worrying, exciting, boring

The gerund:
This always has the same function as a noun (although it looks like a verb), so it can be used:

as the subject of the sentence: Eating people is wrong. after prepositions: Can you sneeze without opening your mouth? She is good at painting after certain verbs, e.g. like, hate, admit, imagine in compound nouns, e.g. a driving lesson, a swimming pool, bird-watching, train-spotting