'-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

ReorderingHorizontal_MTY0Mzg=

-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

ReorderingHorizontal_MTY0Mzk=

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

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTY0NDA=

-ing form as a noun or adjective 2

GapFillTyping_MTY0NDE=

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

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

Hi again Hieu,

 

Yes, in the context you provided there is no difference. If you were talking about a subject of study, however, you would need to use the noun ('communication').

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

''Fearful of how the security forces might react, the local police balked at registering an FIR.''

Has 'being' been omitted before the 'Fearful' in the above sentence? Or this doesn't require 'being'. What grammar rule does the first clause (Fearful of how the security...) follow, incase 'being' is not omitted? Please explain. Thanks and regards.

PS: I really appreciate the tremendous job you all do on this forum, replying and resolving almost every query by providing satisfactory answer.

Hello Wrakshamara,

'Fearful' is an adjective so I think there are two ways to see a construction like this.

1. The sentence is an example of adjective fronting similar to this: 'Golden and bright, the sun rose over the horizon.'

2. There is a participle clause headed by an adjective ('fearful') with the participle 'being' omitted, as you suggest.

To choose which of these is correct I think we need to look at how the phrase (clause) functions in the sentence. If it is simply descriptive then (1) is the correct explanation. If, on the other hand, it is explaining the cause of the main clause's action then (2) is correct. In my view the latter explanation is the right one: 'Fearful of...' explains why the police baulk and (2) is the explanation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

''The house of cards is unraveling, faster than the time it took to put it all together.''

What grammar rule does the latter clause follow? What do we call it? Is it fine to use it in formal writing? Can that be put otherwise?

Hello Wrakshamara,

In your sentence 'faster than the time it took to put it all together' functions as an adverbial.

In terms of sentence structure, 'faster' is an adverb. It describes the verb phrase 'is unraveling'. It is followed by 'than' which in this example is a conjunction introducing the second item of the comparison.

The sentence is grammatically and stylistically fine in both formal and non-formal speech and writing, though I don't think the comma is required.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

1.Simply put, John does not want Harris transferred.

2. Simply put, John does not want Harris to be transferred.

Which sentence is grammatically correct and why?

Hello again Wrakshamara,

There probably are a few other verbs that can be used in the same way, but I'm afraid I can't think of any off the top of my head.

A similar and very useful construction is 'have (or 'get') something done', which we use to speak about actions that we arrange for other people to do. For example, I can say 'I'm going to have my hair cut' or 'She's having her house painted' or 'We're getting our bicycles repaired'. In all of these cases, the subject is not the person cutting, painting or repairing, but they have arranged for other people to do these activities.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teachers
can we use the noun "growth" instead of "growing up" in this sentence "This book is about growing up in a village" and the gerund "selling" instead of "sale" in this sentence "This book is for sale"? Thanks in advance.

Hello Ahmad Hassan,

No, I'm afraid neither of those alternative words is correct. I'd suggest looking up all of these words in the dictionary to see how they have different uses and connotations, but in general 'growing up' refers more to the development of a person from a psychological perspective than does 'growth', which tends to focus more on the biological organism.

In general, 'for sale' means it is available to buy; 'for selling' describes the purpose of the book.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for giving the answer about the difference between to infinitive and gerund. I am sorry for writing it twice.
Hello teachers... Can I use to infinitive instead of -ing form in this sentence "To learn English is not easy" Is there any difference between "Learning English is not easy" and "To learn English is not easy"? Thank you, sir
Hi there brilliant team! I am writing to find out more about 'to+infinitive' and '-ing' clauses For example when I say Mine hobby is swimming, playing basketball, dancing etc. Mine hobby is to swim,to play basketball, to dance etc. Are their meaning the same in this context ? 'to swim'= 'swimming.' to play basketball'='playing basketball' 'to dance'= 'dancing' ? You'd be really helping me out. Fingers crossed!

Hello Nevi,

The possessive adjective is my rather than mine.

 

It's possible to use either form here but the gerund is far more common. I think the infinitive is more often used in a conceptual sense, to describe the idea of something rather than the activity itself.

I wrote a little about this in an answer to another user:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/general-english/video-series/word-on-the-street/york/york-scene-2-language-focus#comment-171197

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there brilliant team! I am writing to find out more about following sentences -I like eating Pizza and -I like Pizza I really wonder why someone can say first sentence 'I like eating Pizza'. For me, 'I like Pizza' is more logical.Because I can't find any reason why someone likes the action of eating. You like foods not eating. I would be grateful if you could clear up my confusion. Best wishes!

Hi Nevı,

Actually, it's fine to simply say I like eating (pizza). 'Eating' means 'consuming food', so food is already part of its meaning.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi magnificent team! I am confused about sth about present participles. I saw following sentence "After packing all the packages, we continued our journey" And information below the sentence says 'You will sometimes see a conjunction or preposition followed by the participle clause' Before I didn't know that information, I was sure 'packing' in the sentence is a gerund. Thus, I am shocked. Which one is true for 'packing' gerund or present participle. You'd be doing me a huge favour.

Hi Nevi,

Many modern grammarians of English see this distinction (gerund vs present participle) as inappropriate for English and so prefer to simply use the term '-ing form' and identify different uses of a single form rather than trying to identify two distinct forms. Thus, I would simply say that 'after' is followed by an ing-form.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply teacher. I wonder if the subjects of actions(to pack and to continue) must be the same(ın the sentence, for example, we) when we use conjunction or preposition+Ving You'd be really helping me out.

Hello again Nevi,

Yes, in these kinds of sentences the performer of the action described in the participle clause is the same as the subject of the verb in the main clause. The time reference is also the same. For example:

Talking to John, you changed your mind. [the conversation with John is in the past]

Talking to John, you'll change your mind. [the conversation with John is in the future]

 

You can read more about this on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/participle-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LearnEnglish Team, I want to know the difference between these two sentences below, 1. Neither does it explain if there is the difference between net cash flow and net income. 2. Neither does it explain if there is a difference between net cash flow and net income. Is using "the difference" after "there is" grammatically correct ? Thank you very much, Parikenan.

Hello Parikenan,

No, that's not correct. It's clear from the sentence that the speaker (and listener) are not familiar with whatever difference there may be as the if-clause tells us that it is not even certain that there is a difference. Therefore 'the' is not appropriate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LearnEnglish Team, I want to know the difference between these two expressions below, 1. The company operational 2. The operational of the company Do they both have the same meaning ? Thank you very much, Parikenan.

Hello Parikenan,

I'm afraid neither of those phrases is correct. If you mean 'company operations' and 'operations of the company', in general those mean the same thing.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

The complete sentence is like this below, "Cash flow analysis can help a company to make all necessary adjustments to keep the company operational in the face of financial difficulties." Does "operational" function as an adjective that modifies "the company" ? Could you elaborate "the company operational" in the sentence above please ? Thank you very much, Parikenan.

Hello Parikenan,

OK, now that I see the full context I understand. Yes, 'operational' is an adjective. The verb 'keep' is often used with a noun and adjective in this way. In this case, it means something like 'to cause the company to stay operational' -- in other words, the company has a better chance of surviving financial difficulties.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi great team, I am confused by one thing about gerunds. For example, when I search some gerunds such as reading, swimming, smoking, I can see the definitions in the dictionaries. But When I wrote a gerund such as believing,trespassing,etc.I couldn't see their definitions. Could you explain me why dictionaries don't show all gerunds' meanings? and show some gerunds'? Thank you. And best wishes!

Hello Nevı,

That's a very good question. I suppose it has something to do with how common the activities the words refer to are, but I'm afraid I'm not completely sure about that. If you can find a place to ask this question on the Cambridge Dictionary blog, they might be able to help you with the answer there.

If you find anything out, please let us know!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team, I want to ask something about past perfect continuous. Can I write these sentences without any meaning differences? "While I had been watching Tv for 2 hours , my friends dropped in. " or " I had been watching TV for 2 hours when my friends dropped in. " I am confused about when can I use this tense. Thank you! Best wishes.

Hi Nevı,

Sentence 2 is fine! In sentence 1, while doesn't fit the meaning of the sentence. While introduces things happening at the same time, but I had been watching (past perfect continuous) shows this happened before the friends dropped in. I'd use the past continuous (was watching) here, or change while to after.

  • While I was watching TV, my friends dropped in.
  • After I'd been watching TV for two hours, my friends dropped in.

Does that make sense?

Have a look at these links for more explanation of the past perfect and past continuous.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

❝After having spent 6 hours at the hospital, the finally came back home.❞ ❝After being helped by the volunteers, they could came back home.❞ Are this sentences correct & what is the difference between these? Could you please explain?!

Hi IjajKhan,

A couple of corrections are needed.

  1. After having spent 6 hours at the hospital, they finally came back home.
  2. After being helped by the volunteers, they could come back home.

Also, in sentence 2, it would be more common to use 'were able to' instead of 'could'. Have a look at our Past ability page for more explanation about this. (See the 'Ability on one occasion – successful' section.)

About the differences, do you mean in the After + verb+ing part? Sentence 1 has a perfect participle, which emphasises that the action of 'spending 6 hours' is complete. Using a present participle would be fine here too (After spending 6 hours ...), and means the same thing. Sentence 2 has a present participle in the passive. You can find more information and examples about these structures on our Participle clauses page.

I hope it helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I enjoy getting dressed as a barbie doll. Here "getting" is the object of the verb, enjoy and "dressed as a barbie doll" is the clause following the object. Is that correct?

Hello Sai_Krishna1011,

I'd call 'getting dressed as a barbie doll' the noun phrase that is the object of the verb. You could further break down this noun phrase, of course.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team, I want to learn 2 things which make me confused 1)Can we add'-ing' to any verb to make a gerund? Or the verb which we add "- ing" must be an action verb? For example can I add "- ing" to verb 'promise' and it would be "promising" Could you tell me? 2)Some nouns which end with "-ing" has a special meaning such as drawing,training, meeting etc.But not all gerunds have a special meaning. Why some gerunds have a special meaning others do not have?

Hello Aysn,

1. As far as I know, yes, you can making a gerund from any verb. 'Promising' can be used as a gerund, e.g. 'Promising you everything will be fine is not something I can honestly do'.

2. As far as I know, this is a matter of usage. In other words, it's just the way people have come to use these words over time.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

He saw a woman lying on the floor. Here " lying" is adjective or verb?. We enjoy learning English. Here "learning" is noun or verb?. Some people are not interested in learning English. Here "learning" is noun or verb?.

Hello Sai_Krishna1011,

It's important to distinguish between form and function. The form of all of these words is the same, but the function in the sentence is different.

In traditional grammars a distinction is drawn between the present participle (which can function as a verb or as an adjective) and the gerund (which functions as a noun). However, in most modern grammars this distinction is not seen as particularly useful and the term 'ing form' is preferred to describe the form, with the function is described according to each example.

 

In your first example, I think it's better to see 'lying' as a verb, heading a participle phrase with an adjectival function in the sentence. You can see the sentence as being a reduced relative clause: '...a woman who was lying...'

 

In your second sentence, 'learning' functions as a noun and is the object of 'enjoy'.

 

In your third sentence, 'learning' functions as a noun, and is the object of the preposition 'in'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello team, I am trying to find the lessons about participles as nouns, adjectives, adverbs. Could you help me in finding that lesson? Thank you sai
Hi team, I am confused about one topic. How can I be sure the using of "to" in any sentence? I mean for example the verb -encourage- one of the patterns is encourage somebody to do something the -to infinitive - must be in this pattern. On the other hand, sometimes -to infinitive- is used for expressing purpose. And I always mixed that -to-is the part of the pattern of verb or using of expressing purpose. Could you tell me how can't I mix both of them ? Could you tell me diffrences?

Hi Nuro,

The main way is to look at the words and try to work out (1) if it's part of a verb pattern (e.g. learn to swim, prefer to arrive early, want to go home), where the meaning comes from the combination of the two verbs together, or (2) it answers the question 'Why?' or 'For what purpose?' In that case, it's the infinitive of purpose. For example:

  • I went to the shop to buy bread. (Contains the answer to 'why did you go to the shop?')

You can find more explanation and examples on this page about 'to' infinitives. I hope it helps :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The LearnEnglish team, I would be greatful if you could help me! In a book named Mygrammarlab, it is said that "-ing" form a verb can has its own object, so "Meeting new people" is right, but they say "The giving presents" is incorrect, according to them " The giving of presents" should be instead of it. I cannot understand that "Meeting new people" and "The giving presents" are almost the same thing but "The giving presents" is in correct..