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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



Thank you, it is helpful to me.

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

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

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

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

Hello John Mccan

In 1, 'tiring' is an adjective that is formed from the participle of the verb 'tire'. It is a subject complement. One way you can test this is by replacing 'tiring' with another adjective. If it is grammatical and makes sense, that's a good clue that 'tiring' is an adjective. By the way, you would need to say 'Journeys are tiring', as we don't generally use singular count nouns without an article.

In 2, 'working' is a noun, more specifically a gerund, and is a subject complement. You can do the same kind of test as above, except this time substituting a noun.

Yes, object complements can be noun phrases (including gerunds), adjectives and infinitives. I wouldn't include participles here, but if you mean a participle being used as an adjective, fine.

Subject complements can be noun phrases (including gerunds), pronouns, adjectives (including participles used adjectivally) and infinitives (though this is a bit unusual).

Hope that clears it up for you.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again John Mccan

I suppose you could, but I'm afraid we're getting into territory (advanced sentence parsing and syntax) that isn't a place we typically go. Our main purpose here is to help users with the content on our sites and for them to learn to use English, not so much analyse it exhaustively.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, could you help me...

In this sentence,
She told me that you sent her an email telling her that you would like to have more pen pals from the US.
what is the function of the -ing form of the word telling? I am confused...

Hello cindymaria

That is an '-ing' form used to create a reduced relative clause. It could also be written 'an email that told her that ...' -- 'telling' replaces 'that told'. This is an advanced use that is not explained on this page, but I'm sure you can find more information about it if you do an internet search.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team