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'-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


-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:

-ing form as an adjective


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


-ing form as a noun or adjective 2



Please confirm

1. In sentence "what is the meaning", is meaning a Verbal noun, It doesn't seem a gerund or Is meaning a base word (noun) not derived from verb mean?

2. Are there any ing words which are noun in their base form.

Hello John Mccan

That is a question that a historical linguist or lexicographer might be able to help you with, but I'm afraid I'm not completely sure. My sense is that the noun 'meaning' is not a gerund because its meaning is far from a verbal noun.

There are many similar words or words that end in 'ing' which do not seem to be derived from verbs -- a few examples are 'acting', 'advertising', 'fundraising', 'evening', 'timing', 'gaming', 'handwriting', and many more.

That's not a very precise explanation, but I hope it helps you.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, thankyou for replying. It is helpful.

Please correct if I'm wrong

The difference between gerund and verbal noun is that we can use determiner or adjective with verbal noun but not with Gerund right?

So accordingly in above sentence meaning is either a verbal noun or a noun itself but not gerund?

Eg swimming is tough (gerund)

He managed to make a good living(verbal noun)

I have read it.

So similarly
What is the meaning (should be a verbal noun)

Now my concern is how to know if words like living, meaning are working as verbal noun or are these nouns itself in base form? Also Gerunds vs ing nouns(base word) as you have also mentioned above, how to spot difference?


Hello again John Mccan

Yes, a verbal noun can be modified with a determiner or adjective and gerunds can have a direct object and/or be modified by an adverbial. With this in mind, I'd say that 'meaning' in 'What is the meaning?' is a verbal noun because if we do a little variation on it -- for example, we could say 'What is the deeper meaning of this?' -- we can see that it is grammatical to use an adjective ('deeper') with 'meaning'. This is a good sign that it is a verbal noun.

Doing a little test on words by varying the sentence a little, like the one I've just done with 'meaning', is the best way I know of to figure out whether they are gerunds or verbal nouns.

I'm sorry I didn't understand your question the first time.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk

Thanks you for replying, this answers my question very well

So is it correct to say that when an 'ing noun' is used like begining, meaning etc it is Nominalized/derived from a verb ie. A verbal noun not a base word/noun.

Please let me know if there are any 'ing words' which are noun in its base form or is it that all of these words are derived from verb ie. verbal nouns?

Eg. I witnessed the playing of song
What is the meaning
The beginning etc.
All these are verbal nouns right?

Hello John Mccan

As far as I know, all the words ending in '-ing' in your examples are verbal nouns. I'm afraid I can't provide a list, as there are hundreds if not thousands of them, but by doing an internet search for 'nouns that end in ing' I found a page with a list of 1520. I have no idea if that is exhaustive, and they may not all be verbal nouns. But I suspect many of them are, and of course it depends on context anyway.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Sure thankyou

Hello Kirk
Please Help me figure this out
It is like icing on the cake: in this sentence

Is it a subject Complement/gerund or participle/participle phrase or a verbal noun? Is this a reduced relative clause?

Hi John Mccan

'icing' is a simple noun in this case. It seems to have been derived from the verb 'ice', but that was over 150  years ago, so nowadays Cambridge classes it as a noun. A specialist in morphology or syntax might take issue with that classification, but I'm afraid that's an area we don't deal with.

You can test to see if an '-ing' form is part of a reduced relative clause by adding 'who/that is/are' to the sentence. For example, in the sentence 'The man standing by the door is my uncle', if you add 'who is' ('The man who is standing by the door is my uncle') and it is grammatical and communicates the correct meaning, then that is a good sign that the '-ing' form is part of a reduced relative clause.

I hope that helps you.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, hope you are well.
Please help-- Gerund and participle (adj)

Subject Complement and object Complement

Can subject/object complements be formed using gerund, infinitive and participle.

confirm if the following examples of subject complement are correct.

1. Journey is tiring-- subject complement where tiring is a participle not gerund

What I hate most is working -- subject complement using Gerund (working is Gerund not participle even though it is an complement/adjective to the subject)

Am I correct.

Also as per me an Object complement can be formed using -- noun/noun phrase, participle, gerund, adjective and infinitive

Similarly subject complement can be -- noun, gerund , Infinitive, participle (adj), adjective