What Are Present Participles?
Present ParticiplesA present participle is a word that (1) ends "-ing," (2) is formed from a verb, and (3) is used as an adjective or to form verb tense. For example:
Let's look at the verb to laugh:
- Here's the present participle: laughing
- Here it is used as an adjective: The laughing gnome
- Here it is used to form a verb tense: The gnome was laughing.
- The Present Participle (ending "-ing")
- The Past Participle (usually ending "-ed," "-d," "-t," "-en," or "-n")
Examples of Present Participles Being Used As AdjectivesHere are some examples of present participles being used as adjectives:
|The Verb||The Present Participle|
|To run||running water|
|To flourish||flourishing business|
|To discourage||discouraging glance|
More Examples of Present Participles Used as AdjectivesHere are some real-life examples of present participles (shaded) being used as adjectives:
- Always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual. (Author Terry Pratchett)
- Somewhere on this globe, every ten seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped. (Comedian Sam Levenson)
- Love is the big booming beat which covers up the noise of hate. (Comedian Margaret Cho)
- All existing business models are wrong. Find a new one. (Cartoonist Hugh Macleod)
Present Participles in Participle PhrasesIt is really common to see present participles in participle phrases. A participle phrase also acts like an adjective. In the examples below, the participle phrases are shaded and the present participles are in bold:
- My mother is next to the lady wearing the red hat. (The participle phrase "wearing the red hat" describes "the lady.")
- I know a pond teeming with fish. (The participle phrase "teeming with fish" describes "a pond.")
- Frantically shuffling through her coppers, Jackie hoped to find another silver coin. (The participle phrase "Frantically shuffling through her coppers" describes "Jackie.")
- Relying on Mark's inability to cast accurately, Lee plonked his bait exactly where Mark had just caught the small pouting. (The participle phrase "Relying on Mark's inability to cast accurately" describes "Lee.")
Present Participles Used in Verb TensesAs well as being used as adjectives, present participles are also used to form verb tenses. Here are the verb tenses (present participles shaded):
|The 4 Past Tenses||Example|
|simple past tense||I talked|
|past progressive tense||I was talking|
|past perfect tense||I had talked|
|past perfect progressive tense||I had been talking|
|The 4 Present Tenses||Example|
|simple present tense||I talk|
|present progressive tense||I am talking|
|present perfect tense||I have talked|
|present perfect progressive tense||I have been talking|
|The 4 Future Tenses||Example|
|simple future tense||I will talk|
|future progressive tense||I will be talking|
|future perfect tense||I will have talked|
|future perfect progressive tense||I will have been talking|
Read more about the progressive tenses.
Do Not Confuse Present Participles with GerundsPresent participles should not be confused with gerunds, which are nouns formed from verbs. Gerunds also end "-ing." There is no difference between gerunds and present participles in terms of spelling. They differ by function. Gerunds are nouns. Present participles are adjectives or used in verb tenses. In these examples, the words in bold are gerunds, and the shaded words are present participles.
Forming the Present ParticipleA present participle is formed like this:
Add "ing" to most verbs:
- play > playing
- shout > shouting
- prepare > preparing
- ride > riding
- lie > lying
- untie > untying
- run > running
- forget > forgetting
The Five Forms of a VerbThe graphic below shows the five forms a verb. This page is about the present participle form, which is also called the "-ING" form.
Why Should I Care about Present Participles?Understanding participles (present participles and past participles) is essential if you're learning or teaching English because adjectives and verb tense are fundamental building blocks...in any language.
Generally speaking, present participles do not cause writing errors among native speakers. The same is not true for participle phrases though. Participle phrases are responsible for an error called a misplaced modifier. But, it's not all bad news with participle phrases. They also offer a benefit.
Here are two good reasons to think a little more about present participles (specifically when they're used in participle phrases). Let's start with the benefit.
(Benefit 1) With a fronted participle phrase, you can say two things about your subject efficiently.Participles can be used to create a sentence structure that allows you to say two or more things about your subject efficiently. For example:
- Demonstrating level headedness in all business dealings, Matt listens actively and engages appropriately when in disagreement. (This example features a present participle (bold) in a participle phrase (shaded).)
Read more about the benefits of using participles on the "non-finite verbs" page.
(Trap 1) Beware misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers!When using the sentence structure in "Benefit 1," writers sometimes create ambiguity by failing to put the participle phrase next to the word it's modifying. For example:
- Demonstrating level headedness in all business dealings, customers routinely offer positive feedback on Matt. (In this example, the participle phrase (shaded) could be modifying "customers" instead of "Matt." This is called a misplaced modifier.)
- Demonstrating level headedness in all business dealings, Matt routinely receives positive feedback from customers. (The participle phrase is now next to "Matt." The ambiguity has gone.)
- Demonstrating level headedness in all business dealings, customers routinely offer positive feedback and return to place more orders. (In this example, the participle phrase (shaded) has nothing to modify. "Matt" isn't mentioned. This is called a dangling modifier.)
Read more about dangling modifiers.