How to recognize the difference between the gerund and the participle

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Both a gerund and a present participle come from a verb –ing. . But each has a different function.  A gerund acts like a noun while a present participle acts like a verb or adjective.

Example: swimming

If it is a gerund, it acts like a noun. It can be a subject, an object, the object of a preposition, or a subject complement.

  • Swimming is a great sport.   [swimming = subject]
  • I hate swimming.    [swimming = object ]
  • I am afraid of swimming.   [swimming = object of a preposition]
  • My favourite sport is swimming.   [swimming = subject complement]

When swimming is a present participle, it is part of a continuous verb tense.

  • Right now, Sheila is swimming.   [is swimming = present continuous]  
  • He was swimming yesterday afternoon.   [was swimming = past continuous]
  • Tomorrow, my friends and I are going to be swimming.   [are going to be swimming = future continuous]                                                      

Unlike a gerund, a present participle can act like an adjective that modifies a noun or follows the be verb.

Example: relaxing

Reading is a relaxing activity ( adj + noun)

Reading is relaxing ( verb to be + adj )

In this case, the word relaxing is a present participle used as an adjective to modify a noun or to follow the verb to be.


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