Your Guide to Understanding the Present Participle

A present participle is a verb form (or verbal)—made by adding -ing to the base—that often functions as an adjective. Present participles are the only verb forms that are completely regular.

The present participle (also known as the -ing form) is used with a form of the auxiliary be to express the progressive aspect.

For a discussion of the differences between present participles and gerunds (both of which end in -ing), see gerunds.

Examples and Observations

  • "The hotel we're staying in is super deluxe, and we have a working television set."
    (Cristina Garcia, I Wanna Be Your Shoebox. Simon & Schuster, 2008)
  • "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning."
    (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, 1908
  • "Working in shifts, we get the grave dug by early afternoon and return to the bunkhouse."
    (Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Englishman's Boy. McClelland & Stewart., 1996
  • "I'm looking for something in an attack dog. One who likes the sweet gamey tang of human flesh."
    (Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, 1992
  • "Looking back you realize that a very special person passed briefly through your life--and that person was you. It is not too late to find that person again."
    (attributed to Robert Brault)
  • "And standing on the sidelines during those first games were the veterans, holding the spaldeens, bouncing them, smelling them in an almost sacramental way."
    (Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life, 1994
  • "When suffering comes, we yearn for some sign from God, forgetting we have just had one."
    (Mignon McLaughlin, The Complete Neurotic's Notebook. Castle Books, 1981
  • "I drive through the electric gates of a three-acre estate, passing landscaped gardens before I pull up in front of a neocolonial mansion, parking beside a Bentley, two Porsches and a Lamborghini Spyder. Moonsamy, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, is waiting for me at the door."
    (Joshua Hammer, "Inside Cape Town." Smithsonian, April 2008
  • "Their hair in curlers and their heads wrapped in loud scarves, young mothers, fattish in trousers, lounge about in the speed-wash, smoking cigarettes, eating candy, drinking pop, thumbing magazines, and screaming at their children above the whir and rumble of the machines."
    (William Gass, "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country"
  • "Although we have traditionally thought of the participle as an adjectival (and that is certainly its more common role), some participles and participial phrases clearly have an adverbial function, providing information of time, place, reason, and manner, as other adverbials do."
    (Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, Understanding English Grammar. Allyn and Bacon, 1998
  • "Walking through Sherwood Forest at sunset, we could feel an air of mystery, as if the ancient trees had a story to tell, if only we could hear."
    (Winsoar Churchill, "Robin Hood's Merry England." British Heritage, April 1998
  • "Standing near the door, we dipped our fingers in the holy water, crossed and blessed ourselves, and proceeded up to the sleeping-room, in the usual order, two by two."
    (Maria Monk
  • " . . . Standing
    In the shoes of indecision, I hear them
    Come up behind me and go on ahead of me
    Wearing boots, on crutches, barefoot, they could never
    Get together on any door-sill or destination—"
    (W.S. Merwin, "Sire." The Second Four Books of Poems. Copper Canyon Press, 1993

What's the Difference Between a Gerund and a Present Participle?

Both of these -ing forms are verbals. A gerund functions as a nounLaughing is good for you. A present participle functions as an adjective: The old laughing lady dropped by to call

Usage Advice: Not Simultaneous

"Not Simultaneous. The misuse of the present participle is a common structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. 'Putting his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau.' Alas, our hero couldn't do this even if his arms were forty-feet long. This fault shades into 'Ing Disease,' the tendency to pepper sentences with words ending in '-ing,' a grammatical construction which tends to confuse the proper sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight)" (Bruce Sterling, "A Workshop Lexicon." Paragons: Twelve Master Science Fiction Writers Ply Their Crafts, ed. by Robin Wilson. St. Martin's Press, 1997

Time and the Present Participle

"The problem of teaching the participle is certainly not simplified by the fact that this term is obviously a misnomer. The student, accustomed to present tenses which indicate present time, and past tenses which indicate past time, cannot comprehend the sophistry of a present participle which indicates now present, now past, now future time. . . . Why insist on calling the participle in -ing present no matter what time it happens to be indicating?" (Karl G. Pfeiffer, "The Present Participle—A Misnomer." The English Journal, 1931)

Also Known As: active, imperfect, or -ing participle

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Your Guide to Understanding the Present Participle." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Your Guide to Understanding the Present Participle. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Your Guide to Understanding the Present Participle." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).