Definition and Examples of -ing Forms in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

ing form
In the phrase running water, running is an example of an -ing-form. (Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images)

In English grammar, "-ing form" is a contemporary linguistic term for the present participle and gerund: any verb form that ends in -ing.

In the book International English Usage (2005), Hancock and Todd note that the term "-ing form" is "neutral as to the function of a verb-derived -ing form." 

Examples and Observations

  • "When -ing forms are used as verbs, adjectives or adverbs, they are often called 'present participles.' (This is not a very suitable name, because these forms can refer to the past, present, or future.) When they are used more like nouns, they are often called 'gerunds.' In fact, the distinction is not really as simple as this, and some grammarians prefer to avoid the terms 'participle' and 'gerund.'"
    (Michael Swan, Practical English Usage, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 1995)
     
  • "Avoid running at all times."
    (Satchel Paige)
     
  • "Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage."
    (H. L. Mencken)
     
  • "A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running."
    (Groucho Marx)
     
  • "I suppose all writers worry about the well running dry."
    (Richard Russo)
     
  • "The barrel was kept full of cold, running water. Dad said it was best to have the water running in at the top and out an opening at the bottom of the barrel; this way it circulated around and over the copper worm."
    (Sidney Saylor Farr, My Appalachia: A Memoir. University Press of Kentucky, 2007)
     
  • "[L]ike so many substantial Americans, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Summer Moonshine, 1937)
     
  • "Sir, I would like to say,
    It is hard to think of the good woman
    Presenting you with children, like cakes,
    Granting you the eye of her needle,
    Standing in doorways, flinging after you
    Little endearments, like rocks, or her silence
    Like a whole Sunday of bells."
    (W.S. Merwin, "Sire." The Second Four Books of Poems. Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
     
  • "One wanders through life as if wandering through a field in the dark of night, wearing a blindfold and very heavy shoes, with a poisonous toad waiting patiently beneath a clump of weeds, knowing full well that eventually you will step on him."
    (Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid. HarperCollins, 2007)
     
  • Adjective and Verb Functions
    "In the following cases the -ing forms are clearly not gradable and are therefore much closer to verb forms:
    her dying wish
    an ailing friend
    a falling star
    the skidding vehicle
    A sentence like He was entertaining is ambiguous out of context. Its meaning depends on whether entertaining is treated as an adjective or as a verb. In He was very entertaining we have an adjective--note the presence of the intensifier very--and in He was entertaining his friends we have a verb--was entertaining is actually the full verb form taking a grammatical object his friends."
    (Ronald Wardhaugh, Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Approach, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2003)
     
  • Word Classes
    "As an example of borderline cases in lexical word classes, take the classification of words ending with -ing. Almost all of these words have a verb base, so it is easy to assume that all words ending in -ing are verbs. However, this conclusion is not correct. In fact, these words can belong to any of three different classes: verb (sometimes called the -ing participle), noun, or adjective (sometimes called participial adjective). Normally, the following tests can be applied to determine the word class:
     
    • Verbs ending in -ing can act as the main verb of a verb phrase, and may be followed by a noun or an adjective . . .: e.g. is eating lunch; becoming misty overnight.
    • Nouns ending in -ing can sometimes have a plural form (e.g. paintings), and can usually be a head noun after a, the, or some other determiner: e.g. [the banning of some chemicals], [her dancing].
    • Adjectives ending in -ing can appear before a noun, and can also occur after verbs such as be and become: e.g. the travelling public; it was (very) confusing. They are very often gradable, and can be preceded by degree adverbs such as very, so, and too: very forgiving, so interesting, too boring.
    But these criteria cannot always be applied."
    (Douglas Biber at al., Longman Student Grammar of Spoken English. Pearson, 2002)