'-ing' forms

Level: beginner

We can use the -ing form of a verb:

I love swimming.
Swimming is very good for your health.
You can get fit by swimming regularly.

The main problem today is rising prices.
That programme was really boring.
He saw a woman lying on the floor.

-ing forms as nouns

-ing nouns are nearly always uncount nouns. They can be used:

  • as the subject of a verb:

Learning English is not easy.

  • as the object of a verb:

We enjoy learning English.

Common verbs followed by an -ing object are:

admit like hate start avoid
suggest enjoy dislike begin finish
  • as the object of a preposition :

Some people are not interested in learning English.

-ing form as a noun

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-ing forms as adjectives

The -ing adjective can come:

  • in front of a noun:

I read an interesting article in the newspaper today.
We saw a really exciting match on Sunday.

Your new book sounds very interesting.
The children can be really annoying.

  • after a noun:

Who is that man standing over there?
The boy talking to Angela is her younger brother

  • especially after verbs of the senses like see, watch, hear, smell, etc.:

I heard someone playing the piano.
I can smell something burning.

The commonest -ing adjectives are:

amusing
boring
disappointing
interesting
surprising
tiring
worrying
exciting
frightening
shocking
terrifying
annoying
-ing form as an adjective

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Patterns with -ing forms

Because an -ing noun or adjective is formed from a verb, it can have any of the patterns which follow a verb. For example:

  • it can have an object:

I like playing tennis.
I saw a dog chasing a cat.

  • it can be followed by a clause:

I heard someone saying that he saw you.

-ing form as a noun or adjective 1

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-ing form as a noun or adjective 2

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Average
Average: 3.7 (43 votes)

Submitted by Radioheady on Sun, 31/03/2024 - 02:59

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Hello sir. I wonder which of the following is correct? "to get the car started" or "to get the car starting". I personally prefer "started", but the given answer is "starting" Does it make sense?

Thanks for your time~

Hi Radioheady,

I would also say the first option, with "started". "Get X started" is a fixed phrase and you can say it about other things too (e.g. Let's get the party started). 

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Radioheady,

The -ing form indicates a continuous or ongoing action. However, since starting a car normally involves just turning a key or pressing a button and then the engine starting, it doesn't have a significant duration. If you say "get the car starting", it seems to mean that the action of "starting" will need some time. (But you could say "I'll get the computer starting up", for example, if the computer needs a long time to start up). 

Instead, the usual meaning would be the car being ready to drive (i.e., the action of starting it is already complete - so "started").

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by englishlearnin… on Wed, 28/02/2024 - 04:29

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Hello 

Could you tell me about this? Is being in human being noun? like human and being or adjective? like human who is being alive?

Thank you!

Submitted by howtosay_ on Mon, 06/11/2023 - 02:19

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Hello, dear teachers and team!

Could you please help me with the following:

Which ones are correct:

1. In spite of being not a good person, he is very dedicated

2. In spite of not being a good person, he is very dedicated.

3. Thank you for informing/understanding ! (Could this ones be correct?)

4. Thank you for informing/understanding me!

I am and will always be grateful for your precious help and thank you very much for your answer to this post beforehand!

Hello howtosay_,

In #3 if you use 'informing' then you need to add an object: Thank you for informing me/us/them etc. Other than that, all the sentences are grammatically fine.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by User_1 on Fri, 06/10/2023 - 17:13

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Hello,
Could you explain how and when we use "to" before a verb with the -ing ending?
Classic case: "I look forward to hearing from you"
I have doubts about the grammar structure, which verbs use that and how it works.
Thank you.

Hi User_1,

"To" is actually two different words.

  1. I want to hear from you ("to" is part of the infinitive verb)
  2. I look forward to hearing from you ("to" is a preposition; like all prepositions, if "to" is followed by a verb it must be in the -ing form)

In case 1, the infinitive with to is used after many verbs and adjectives.

  • I need to wake up early in the morning. (See this page (linked) for more info about verbs followed by "to" + infinitive.)
  • This book is easy to understand. (Also hard, happy, pleased and some other adjectives.)

You can also put "to" + infinitive after a noun to show what action is done to that noun, e.g. I have a book to read. / There is no food to eat.

In case 2, some verbs, nouns and adjectives require the preposition "to", and therefore an -ing form for any verb after it.

  • I got used to waking up early in the morning. (Other verbs: be used to, object, respond ...)
  • Listening to what customers say is the key to understanding them. (Other nouns: response, approach, dedication ...)
  • His whole life was dedicated to helping other people. (Also many other -ed adjectives, e.g. addicted, devoted, accustomed, opposed ...)

There may be cases where both the -ing form and the to + infinitive seem possible.

  • Listening to what customers say is the key to understanding them.
  • Listening to what customers say is the key to understand them.

Both of these sentences are grammatical. There is a slight difference in meaning - in the first one, the phrase "the key to understanding them" is meaningful together and it can't be divided. In the second one, the phrase "to understand them" (an infinitive of purpose, meaning "in order to understand them) modifies "the key" but it is separable from it. We can see this more clearly if we reorganise the sentence: To understand them, listening to what customers say is the key.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for your help.
Actually, my doubts regard the second case:
The preposition "to", and an -ing form for any verb after it.
Your example: I got used to waking up early in the morning.
I would use that form:
I got used to wake up early in the morning.
Why isn't my sentence correct?
For me, it is difficult to figure out the preposition "to", and a -ing form for any verb after it.
Thank you

Hi User_1,

Firstly, don't confuse get used to (+ -ing) with used to, which does take an infinitive after it: I used to wake up early in the morning. The word used is a verb in that sentence (while in get used to, it's an adjective).

As for why I got used to wake up early ... isn't correct, the simple answer is that get used to is followed by an -ing form and not an infinitive. That's the accepted grammatical form.

In more detail, in get used to + -ing, the word to is a preposition and its basic meaning is movement towards something. That's the underlying meaning of to in get used to + -ing, a movement towards doing the -ing activity (e.g. waking up early).

But get used to + infinitive isn't grammatical because used is not one of the group of adjectives (e.g. easy, hard, happy, pleased) that are followed by to + infinitive. It also isn't meaningful as an infinitive of purpose (e.g. to buy in the example I went to the shop to buy some food), because to wake up early is not the purpose of I got used. Also, as we know, to is a preposition here and the verb following any preposition is always in the -ing form.

Grammar is confusing at times but I hope this explanation somehow helps to see what's going on here.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Jonathan
Thank you, I got it.
I have not known about the grammatical form where the word "used" in "get used to" is an adjective.

Submitted by Ax45 on Wed, 04/10/2023 - 16:18

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Hello teachers,

Is it possible and correct to say this?

I saw him crossing the street and entering the building

A person told me that the only correct option would be :

I saw him cross the street and enter the building

To me they're both possible with a slight different meaning.
Maybe the presence of two Ing verbs in the same sentence might sound awkward but I'm not sure.

I look forward to hearing your kind response.

Thanks
Alex

Hello Ax45,

In theory it's possible to use two continuous forms after a verb of perception, but I agree with your colleague who said they don't work in this sentence.

After verbs of perception, we generally use a bare infinitive ('cross', 'enter') to speak about a completed action that we witnessed or a continuous form ('crossing', 'entering') to talk about an action we witnessed happening over a period of time. So from that point of view, your sentence should be fine. The reason that your sentence sounds odd is because we don't use the verb 'see' in this way.

We don't use 'see' to talk about actively observing something; for a more active observation of an action, we generally use 'watch'. This is why it's not really correct to say 'we're seeing a film now', because a film is something that lasts longer than a moment. We can saw 'we saw a film' because it refers to a completed action from beginning to end; it's not an action in progress, but a discrete event.

To return to the sentence you ask about, the actions of crossing the street and entering the building last more than a moment and say it sounds unnatural to use 'saw'. If you changed the verb to 'watched', you could use the continuous forms.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kat2712,

'I saw him cross the street' is correct, but it's not correct to use 'crossed'. We use a base form (or '-ing' form) in cases like this, not a past participle.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by AboodKh9 on Mon, 04/09/2023 - 19:18

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Hello instructors!
I have a question about affixes or derivation (suffix and prefix): How do I know the right affix to add to a word. For example: I want to transform these words “ direct, enjoy, decide” If I don’t know the noun of these words, how can I choose the right suffix? There is a rule? Or I have to consult a dictionary? I know that there are rules for spelling, but here I want to know if there are rules to know the right affix to add to any new word I come across?

I will be thankful for you if you help me know about this topic.

Hi AboodKh9,

You need to check a dictionary. To form a noun (for example), there are many possible suffixes. You can refer to this Cambridge Dictionary page (linked) for a full list.

The reason for choosing some suffixes is related to the meaning of the word. For example, adding -ism to a word (e.g. capitalism) makes the noun for a way of thinking or philosophy, and adding -er/-or makes the noun for a person (e.g. painter/actor). However, this does not mean that those suffixes can be added to any word (e.g. a person who makes art is an artist, not arter), so although knowing these meaning patterns can help you to remember the nouns, it is not a predictable system and it's best to refer to a dictionary.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sat, 26/08/2023 - 14:17

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Dear team,
Hello,
All that is required is a computer with internet access, making expanding one's social circle uncomplicated and efficient.
Please tell me how the "making" has become shorter, I mean, what has been deleted.
Thank you
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

You could rephrase the sentence as follows:

All that is required is a computer with internet access, which makes expanding one's social circle uncomplicated and efficient.

Note that the comma is important here as it is a non-defining relative clause.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fenris on Thu, 29/06/2023 - 12:01

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Hey, I've been wondering what grammar there is behind this dialogue: "
– I make mestakes all the time.
– That spelling BEING one such instance". Namely, why is the verb "to be" used like that? What grammar rule does it follow?

Hello Fenris,

I guess the dialogue is humorous as 'mestakes' is a (presumably deliberate) spelling error.

'Being' here is a participle, which is a non-finite verb form (see here for information on non-finite verbs). Generally, a sentence requires a finite verb rather than a non-finite verb, and so this sentence should really be part of the previous sentence, as follows:

I make mestakes all the time, that spelling being one such instance.

Now the sentence is harmonious grammatically: the non-finite verb is not part of an independent clause and takes its time reference from the finite verb in the earlier clause. In your example, the second line is best understood as the second speaker finishing the first speaker's sentence for him/her as an ironic comment.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Araliya on Sat, 17/06/2023 - 11:35

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0I. have already started following a course.

There are two verbs in thise sentence.what are the grammar rules for thise?

Hello Araliya,

There are a number of verbs (like 'start') that can be followed by a verb in the '-ing' form. Actually, there are a small number of verbs, like 'start', that can also be followed by an infinitive form (for example, 'it started to rain'). But most verbs are not so flexible.

There are several pages here on LearnEnglish that you can read to learn more about this:

The sections on 'go' and 'do' on our Delexical verbs page might also be useful.

Hope this helps you. Please let us know if you have other questions.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Khoshal on Mon, 12/06/2023 - 14:11

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Hello teacher,
I have seen the following sentence somewhere online, but I'm not clear about it. Could you explain it what kind of pattern they have used it?
Example: I’m going to go see a movie tonight.
go see = What kind of pattern it is?
Thanks,
Khoshal

Hello Khoshal,

This is a very informal form used in spoken English, and it is a reduction of another informal form. Let me explain the second informal form first.

1. In informal speaking, people often use 'and' like after the verbs 'go' and 'come'. For example, sentences like the following are very common:

I need to go and get some milk.
Can you come and help me with my homework?
You should go and ask her!

Note that this can be used with any tense (not just 'be going to' + verb), but only with the verbs 'go' and 'come'.

2. In very informal speaking, people sometimes omit the word 'and' (after 'go' or 'come'):

I'm going to go see a movie tonight.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by BellaDunst on Tue, 30/05/2023 - 06:45

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Hello there,
I go swimming everyday.
Is swimming here is a gerund or a participle?
Thanks in advance for your explanation.

Hello BellaDunst,

This is a more complicated question than you might think, and you could argue either way. You can read such a discussion here:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/124492/is-swimming-a-gerund-in-i-went-swimming

 

In modern English grammar we generally don't distinguish between gerunds and infinitives and see them as terms not really appropriate to English. Instead, we use a term like -ing form which covers all uses (this is referred to in the discussion I linked to). So my answer is that this is the -ing form :)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mikrobik on Mon, 27/03/2023 - 12:42

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Hello
I would very appreciate if you explain the next sentence:
I do the cooking.
As I know, the verb cooking in this sentence as a noun. In some cases it is possible. Could you , please provide more explanation in what situations the verb will become a noun and , particularly with DO?
Thank you.

Submitted by Shirley Wang2008 on Thu, 16/03/2023 - 06:42

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Hi teachers,
I recently met a sentence ,it says like this:
It shows the complete process of the leading actors finding out possible criminals.
I can't understand the phrase after "of" , is that sentence correct?
can we use structure : prepositions+nouns+verb ing ?
In the sentence above ,it seems "the leading actors" is not an object of the
preposition 'of"
Could you please give me a reply ?
Thanks,
Shirley

Hi Shirley,

I'm not sure where this is from, but this sentence sounds a bit unnatural to me, so I'm not sure I'd look to it as a model. Having said that, the structure you ask about is correct and it is correctly used in this case.

'of' is the head of a prepositional phrase. The prepositional phrase could be short (e.g. 'the complete process of cellular development') or, as in this case, more complex. The complex phrase here is subject noun phrase + verb-'ing' + object noun phrase ('the leading actors finding possible criminals'). Another example of a similarly structured phrase is 'of how the protagonist successfully navigates a complex and difficult situation'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by khomychvitaliia on Sun, 19/02/2023 - 17:07

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Hey there!

I read here such an example 'I love watching my son play football'.
Could you explain me, please, why don't we use in this sentence 'plays' instead of 'play'?

Thanks in advance.

Hello khomychvitaliia,

The pattern here is watch (see, hear, observe etc) someone do something, where 'do' is not a present simple form but is rather the base form (infinitive without 'to'). You can see this is you use the verb 'be':

I love seeing him be so happy.

You can read more about various verb patterns here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/english-grammar-reference/clause-structure-and-verb-patterns

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Tue, 15/11/2022 - 14:02

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Hello Sir.Relating to the same issue ,I saw in adverts: If you are looking for a free course all you need to do is sign up in our website and enroll for the course.
Shouldn't it be like: all you need to do is signing up in our website ...
Thank you already.

Hello Sajatadib,

What you suggest makes sense, but I'm afraid what people actually say is what the adverts say. In other words, when a verb comes after 'All you need to do is', it goes in the base form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Mon, 07/11/2022 - 16:02

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Hello sir, in the news I heard : My priority is making sure we deliver the economic stability that our country needs.
Could you please help me understand the difference between the following?
My priority is to make sure ...
My priority is make sure ...
My priority is making sure ...

Hi Sajatadib,

Good question. Here are some comments:

  • "To + verb" is often used to show the purpose of something (i.e., something that the speaker intends to do). This fits the meaning of this sentence well because this speaker is explaining his/her purpose (i.e., delivering economic stability).
  • "make sure" - this would probably be considered a grammatical mistake.
  • The -ing form of the verb ("making sure") makes the verb function like a noun. Unlike the "to + verb" structure, it does not by itself show a purpose. It just shows an action. However, in the context of this sentence, the action is clearly the speaker's purpose.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by g-ssan on Sun, 23/10/2022 - 18:44

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Hello sir ,
I have a question and i’m sorry it’s out of this topic it’s about grammar itself .

My question is do i need really learning English grammar so deeply like where is the place of object and clause in sentence to speak and read English fluently please answer my question .

Hi g-ssan,

Understanding this aspect of grammar will help you to understand the meaning of what you read better. It will also help you to speak in grammatically standard ways and communicate more clearly. Also, some books, websites and other learning materials will use these ideas when they explain grammar structures. So, if you want to extend your learning, I would definitely recommend trying to learn at least some basic ideas.

However, it's hard for me to answer this question without knowing why you are learning English. If you are learning because you want to pass a difficult exam, for example, then it's probably useful to learn, because accurate understanding/speaking is important in exams. But if you do not have any particular target, or if you feel you already communicate and understand well enough, then it might not be necessary - or at least, it may not be a high priority.

So I guess an important question is: how important is grammatical accuracy for you, in the situations where you use (or want to use) English?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Hassan on Fri, 22/07/2022 - 16:46

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Hello Teachers
my teacher wrote this sentence "I can't afford buying this car ".
is it correct to use a gerund after the verb afford?

Hi Ahmed Hassan,

I'm sorry to disagree with your teacher but I would use "to" + infinitive after "afford" (e.g. I can't afford to buy this car).

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by HieuNT on Fri, 18/03/2022 - 23:06

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

We're all taught that the "-ing" form of a verb can function as a noun (in this case, it is a gerund).

But sometimes, I don't know whether I should choose a gerund or a noun. For example, in this question:

> "Sign language is a visual means of ____ using gestures, facial expression and body language. (communicate)"

My teacher told me that the blank should be "communication", but when I goolged the whole sentence, I saw the word "communicating" was used.

Grammatically speaking, I think both "communication" and "communicating" can be used here. But are there any nuances between "communicating" and "communication"?

And so, when it comes down to choosing between a noun and a gerund, is there a good rule of thumb to tell us which one we should pick?

Thank you,
Hieu Nguyen.

Hello HieuNT,

In general, the -ing form (gerund) tends to refer to the activity (speaking, communicating) while the noun refers to the subject or concept (speech, communication). Often both forms are possible, as in your example, and sometimes only one form exists (writing, reading etc).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Mr. Peter M.,

Thank you for your answer. So, I understand that the choice of words (a gerund or a noun) will depend on what writers want to emphasise (the action or the subject), right?

In my example, the meaning of the sentence is literally the same for a non-native speaker like me, regardless of whether "communicating" or "communication" is used. Does it sounds the same for you as a native speaker?

Hieu Nguyen