What Are Present Participles?

Present Participles

A 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:

present participle


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.
There are two types of participles:
  • The Present Participle
  • (ending "-ing")
  • The Past Participle
  • (usually ending "-ed," "-d," "-t," "-en," or "-n")
Present and past participles are non-finite verbs. (A non-finite verb is a verb that, by itself, does not show tense. This means if you look at just a participle, you cannot tell if you're dealing with the past tense, present tense, or future tense.)

Examples of Present Participles Being Used As Adjectives

Here are some examples of present participles being used as adjectives:
The VerbThe Present Participle
To runrunning water
To flourishflourishing business
To discouragediscouraging glance

More Examples of Present Participles Used as Adjectives

Here 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 Phrases

It 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.")
Read more about participle phrases.

Present Participles Used in Verb Tenses

As 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 tenseI 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
Note that present participles are used to form the progressive (or continuous) tenses. The progressive tenses show an ongoing action.

Read more about the progressive tenses.

Do Not Confuse Present Participles with Gerunds

Present 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.
GerundsParticiples
  • Running was tough on my knees.
  • There is no running water in the apartment.
  • (This is a present participle used as an adjective.)
  • I hate moving house.
  • The ground was moving under our feet.
  • (This is a present participle used for verb tense.)
  • I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph. (Actress Shirley Temple)
  • Now, God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair. (Playwright William Shakespeare)
  • Read more about gerunds.

    Forming the Present Participle

    A present participle is formed like this:

    Add "ing" to most verbs:
    • play > playing
    • shout > shouting
    For verbs that end "e," remove the "e" and add "ing":
    • prepare > preparing
    • ride > riding
    For verbs that end "ie," change the "ie" to "y" and add "ing":
    • lie > lying
    • untie > untying
    For verbs whose last syllable is written [consonant-vowel-consonant] and is stressed, double the final consonant and add "ing":
    • run > running
    • forget > forgetting

    The Five Forms of a Verb

    The graphic below shows the five forms a verb. This page is about the present participle form, which is also called the "-ING" form.

    present participle form of a verb

    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).)
    This participle-phrase upfront structure is particularly useful when writing personal appraisals. It allows you to shoehorn in an extra observation about your subject in a single sentence.

    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.)
    A misplaced modifier makes your sentence ambiguous or wrong. You can avoid a misplaced modifier by placing your modifier next to whatever it's modifying. Let's fix the example.
    • 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.)
    Sometimes, writers create a worse error called a dangling modifier. With a dangling modifier, the word being modified isn't even present in the sentence. For example:
    • 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 modifier. "Matt" isn't mentioned. This is called a dangling modifier.)
    Read more about misplaced modifiers.
    Read more about dangling modifiers.
    Interactive Exercise
    Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

    See Also

    What are adjectives? What are past participles? What are participle phrases? What are adjective phrases? What are verbs? What are verb tenses? Do a test on verb tenses. What are gerunds?