The form of English verbs ending in -ing forms a variety of roles. With very few exceptions such verbs sometimes function mostly with characteristics of a verb, sometimes of a noun, and sometimes of an adjective, all with the same base meaning. A number of verbs have -ing forms that function as adverbs modifying adjectives. Furthermore, some of these forms have evolved to truly become adjectives or nouns, sometimes with meanings that diverge from the meanings of the verb. Finally, there are some -ing forms that are not derived from verbs.
Historically, grammarians and linguists have made a distinction between the participle and the gerund (and sometimes the gerundial, the gerundive, or the gerundial noun). Partially this derives from earlier forms of English in which the forms had somewhat different endings. But in Modern English there is never a difference of form in those uses. The two-fold distinction also did not capture all aspects of the diverse uses of the form.
Accordingly, many modern grammarians have de-emphasized the distinction and some have dispensed with the distinction altogether. This discussion dispenses with the distinction.
Examples of noun use of gerund-participle:
- "I like swimming."
- "Climbing can be dangerous"
- "Swimming competitively consumed more than 20 hours a week for practice and travel."
- "Competitive swimming is my favorite activity."
- "They got together to talk swimming.
- "He took to swimming in the morning before work."
- "This is what I wear for swimming."
- "There were four swimmings of the Channel that year."
Adjective use of gerund-participle
- "I've been on swimming teams since I was eight."
- "The swimming seal moved much faster than the one on the sand."
To be classified/labeled:
- "My dad took us swimming in the river."
- "I'd love to go swimming."
- "What makes it worth swimming the Channel."
- "I'd be happy swimming every day."
- "Night swimming is nice."
Examples of present participles in progressive use:
- "I am writing a letter."
- "I have been shopping."
- "By six o'clock I will have been practicing for a total of eight hours."
- "I had been writing from the moment I got to my desk after I got up."
- "I was writing when I heard the news on the radio."
- "I will be writing all weekend."
Examples of uses of -ing-forms that are pure nouns rather than participles:
- "This is a tall building."
- "All rational beings should understand."
- "The business meeting took longer than we expected."
- "The term 'cat' has several meanings."