Difference between a gerund and a participle

Difference between a gerund and a participle
difference between a gerund and a participle

Before we look at the difference between a gerund and a present participle, let’s look at their definitions and understand what gerunds and participles are in English.

What is a gerund in English?

Gerund definition: a gerund in English is a progressive form (ing) of a verb that works as a noun in a sentence. Though a gerund is a verb form, it is works as a noun in a sentence. Since a it works as a noun, it can acts as the following in a sentence:

  1. The subject
  2. The object of a verb
  3. The object of a preposition
  4. The object of a possessive pronoun
  5. The subject complement

Gerund examples:

  • Dancing is her passion. (subject)
  • I love dancing. (object of the verb ‘love’)
  • She thinks about dancing all the time. (object of the preposition ‘about’)
  • We are a big fan of your dancing. (object of the possessive adjective ‘your’)
  • His passion is dancing. (subject complement)

What is a participle in English?

A participle in English is a verb form that works either as an adjective or as a verb in a sentence. There are two types of participles in English:

  1. Present participle
  2. Past participle

Present participle definition

A present participle is an ‘ing’ form of a verb (progressive) that modifies a noun in a sentence. It either functions as an adjective or a verb.

Present participle as adjectives

Present participles as adjectives comes right before or after a noun/pronoun and modifies it. Here are some examples of present participles as adjectives:

  • We are living in a developing country. (describing the noun ‘country‘)
  • I can’t jump from a running bus. (describing the noun ‘bus‘)
  • The movie was motivating. (describing the noun ‘movie‘)
  • Look at that burning train. (describing the noun ‘train‘)
  • The guy dancing with your sister is a singer. (‘Dancing’ is the present participle, and ‘dancing with your sister’ is a present participle phrase)

TIP1: when a present participle is followed by its object or a modifier, the entire group is called a present participle phrase.

Present participle as action verb (main verb)

A present participle when followed by a helping verb and shows an action works as an action verb.

Examples:

  • You are running really fast.
  • You were running fast.
  • You have been running quite fast.

In the above examples, running is working as an action verb. It is showing the action of running. It is not describing any noun or pronoun.

TIP2: a present participle function both as an adjective and a verb. To avoid confusing others or getting confused, call it present participle adjective when it functions as an adjective, and call it present participle when it works as a verb only.

Past participle definition

A past participle is a third form of a verb (V3) that modifies a noun in a sentence. It functions as an adjective or an action verb.

Past participle as an adjective

A past participle works as an adjective when it refers to a noun or pronoun and gives information about it. As an adjective, it can take three positions in a sentence:

  1. Right before the noun it’s modifying
  2. Right after the noun it’s modifying
  3. After a linking verb

Study the following examples of past participles as adjectives:

  • A motivated person can do anything. (describing the noun ‘person‘)
  • She is very dedicated to her goals. (describing the pronoun ‘she‘)
  • Your father was worried about you. (describing the noun ‘father‘)
  • The house burnt by the fire is close to my shop. (describing the noun ‘house‘, and “burnt by the fire” is a past participle phrase)

Just like a present participle, a past participle also functions like a verb in a sentence. When it does, it is followed by a helping verb.

Past participle as an action verb (main verb)

A past participle, when followed by a helping verb and shows an action, works as an action verb.

Examples:

  • You have motivated me a lot.
  • I have dedicated this life to my country.
  • They had burnt my shop before I reached there.

In the above examples, the bold words are action verbs (past participles). They are not modifying any noun or pronoun; they are showing an action.

TIP3: a past participle functions both as an adjective and a verb. To avoid confusing others or getting confused, call it past participle adjective when it functions as an adjective, and call it past participle when it works as a verb only.

Gerunds vs Participles

A gerund is a verb form that functions as a noun only. In other words, if a progressive form of a verb (v1+ing) functions as a noun, call it a gerund. But a participle never functions as a noun; it either functions as a verb or an adjective

Let’s look at the complete difference between gerunds and participles.

Basic of differenceGerundParticiple
DefinitionA gerund in English is a progressive form (ing) of a verb that works as a noun in a sentence.A participle in English is a verb (V1+ing or V3) form that works as an adjective or as a verb in a sentence.
TypesA gerund can play the following roles:

1. The subject
2. The object of a verb
3. The object of a preposition
4. The object of a possessive adjective
5. The subject complement
There are two types of participles in English:

1. Present participle
2. Past participle
FunctionsA gerund functions only as a noun.

ExTeaching is my passion.
A participle can function either as a verb or as an adjective.

Examples:
1. He is teaching English. (verb)
2. I hate teaching jobs. (adjective)
PositionA gerund can take the following places:

1. Before the main verb (linking or action verb)
2. After an action verb (transitive)
3. After a preposition
4. After a possessive adjective
5. After the main verb (linking verb)

Examples:

1. Teaching is fun. (before the main verb)
2. I love teaching. (after an action verb)
3. He is passionate about teaching. (after a preposition)
4. Your teaching is amazing. (after a possessive adjective)
5. My passion is dancing. (after the main verb)
A participle can take the following places:

1. Before a noun
2. After a noun
3. After a main verb (linking verb)

Examples:

1. A motivated person can do anything.
2. Look at the burning train.
3. The movie was exciting.
4. The class is motivated.
Difference between gerund and participle

Gerund vs Present participle

Amongst students, this is a common confusion to find out the difference between a gerund and a present participle.

Why does this confusion arise in the first place?

Both gerunds and present participles look the same; they both are a progressive form of a verb. If you just look at them, you might not be able tell the difference, but if you know how they function, there is no confusion as they are worlds apart.

So let me tell you the trick:

  • If an ing form of a verb (progressive) functions as a noun, it is a GERUND.
  • If it functions as an adjective (modifies a noun), it is a PRESENT PARTICIPLE or PRESENT PARTICIPLE ADJECTIVE.
  • If it functions as an action verb(modifies a noun), it is a PRESENT PARTICIPLE.

Let’s look at the position of both a gerund a present participle!

Position of a gerund

  1. Before a main verb.
    (As the subject)
  2. After an action verb (transitive).
    (As the object of a verb)
  3. After a linking verb.
    (As the subject complement)
  4. After a preposition.
    (As the object of a preposition)
  5. After a possessive adjective.
    (As the object of a possessive pronoun)

Examples:

  • Dancing makes me happy. (Before the main verb makes)
  • I hate dancing. (After the main verb hate)
  • I am not thinking about dancing. (After the preposition about)
  • My passion is dancing. (After the linking verb is)
  • Everyone loves your dancing. (After the possessive adjective your)

The word dancing is a gerund in the above sentence as it’s working as a noun. You shouldn’t confuse it with a present participle, for a present participle doesn’t work as a noun and can’t take these places.

Position of a present participle

  1. Just before a noun
  2. Just after a noun
  3. After a linking verb (main verb)

Examples:

  • Look at the burning train.
  • The girl dancing on the stage is my sister.
  • This movie is exciting.

Note: there is no tip to find the difference between a gerund and a present participle when they are followed by a linking verb. You just need to look at their function in that case. A gerund (noun) will rename the subject, and a present participle (adjective) will modify the subject.

  • My passion is dancing. (renaming the subject ‘passion‘)
  • Ashish is exciting. (modifying the subject)

It can be an action verb too.

  • Ashish is dancing. (action verb)

My YouTube videos on the topic:

6 thoughts on “Difference between a gerund and a participle”

  1. Identify Gerunds And Participles:
    1. Swimming ducks is/are fun to watch. (what is swimming?)
    2. Doing exercise makes us healthy. (what is doing here?)
    3. Playing cricket is my hobby. (what is playing here?
    4. Samad always watches movies and watching movies he loves the most. (what is watching here?

    Kindly reply to me here as well as at my email address. I will be thankful to you.
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