The difference between the gerund and the present participle

Since the simple gerund and the present participle have the same form (verb-ing), sometimes it can be difficult to decide whether an -ing form is a gerund or a present participle.

It may be worth remembering that a gerund always functions as a noun:

Function Example sentence
Subject Hiking can be a relaxing and rewarding activity.
Complement What I really like is travelling to other countries.
Object of a verb Jill suggested going for a drink.
Object of a preposition He rushed out of the room without saying a word.
Object of a prepositional verb Could you give up smoking?
Part of a compound noun We had no drinking water left.

The present participle has the following functions:

Function Example sentence
Continuous aspect I wasn’t listening.
What have you been doing?
You must be joking.
I happened to be passing your house.
Adjective The survey revealed some worrying results.
The results of the survey were/seemed worrying.
Participle clauses The man driving the car was not injured.
Tom lost his keys (while) walking through the park.
Opening the envelope, I found two concert tickets.
Having nothing left to do, Paula went home.

Sometimes it is a matter of interpretation whether an -ing form is a gerund or a present participle:

Hunting lions can be dangerous.

Hunting as a present participle functions as an adjective and describes lions. The sentence means:

Lions that hunt can be dangerous.

If hunting is a gerund, lions is its object and the sentence means:

It can be dangerous to hunt lions.


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