The -ing forms

A verb ending in -ing is either a present participle or a gerund. These two forms look identical. The difference is in their functions in a sentence.

Present participles

A present participle is most commonly used as part of the continuous form of a verb, after verbs of perception, after verbs of movement, or as an adjective.

Present participles as part of the continuous form of a verb

Present participles are an element in all continuous verb forms (past, present, future, conditional, etc.). The helping verb will indicate the tense, while the present participle remains unchanging.

  • He is painting.
  • She was waiting.
  • They will be coming.
  • We would be staying.
  • I would have been leaving.
Present participles after verbs of perception

Present participles can be used after verbs of perception in the pattern verb + object + present participle to indicate the action being perceived.

  • We saw him swimming across the pond.
  • I watched her painting Sarah's portrait.
  • I couldn't hear her singing because of the noise.
  • I would like to see you knitting sometime.
Present participles after verbs of movement, action, or position, to indicate parallel activity.
  • She sat looking at the sea.
  • He walks reading his newspaper.
  • I cook listening to the radio.
  • Sally lay listening to the bugs in the grass.
Present participles as adjectives
  • Did you read that amazing book?
  • This movie is so exciting!
  • His economics class is boring.

Read more about using present participles.


The gerund always has the same function as a noun, although it looks like a verb. It can be used in the same way as a noun.

A gerund as the subject of the sentence
  • Eating people is wrong.
  • Driving too fast is dangerous.
  • Walking is good for you.
  • Your knitting is beautiful.
A gerund after prepositions
  • Can you sneeze without opening your mouth?
  • She is good at painting.
  • I was the fastest at climbing the rope.
  • He learns music by listening to the chords.
A gerund after certain specific verbs
  • I like cooking.
  • He enjoys walking.
  • They hate milking cows.
  • I can imagine drifting away in a balloon.
A gerund in compound nouns
  • I took her to her driving lessons.
  • We are going to the swimming pool.
  • My uncle does a lot of bird-watching.
  • I found this pie by dumpster-diving.

Read more about using gerunds.