Verbals. What's the difference between a gerund and a present participle?

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Usage is the greatest difference between gerunds and participles. 

  1. Gerunds are verbals used as nouns as explained in the previous posts.
  2. Participles can act as verbals leading a participial phrase which is used as an adjective to modify a noun such as a person or an animal. These participles are the -ing form of a verb (the present participle, a principal part of the verb)
  3. Participles are also used as single-word adjectives to modify a noun. These are formed from the past participle (also a principal part of the verb)  

Here are examples: 

GERUND:  Delighting in the sand and surf is one of my favorite past times when I am in Gulf Shores.

PARTICIPIAL PHRASE: (using present participle) Delighting in the flavor of the ice cream, Marianne did not notice the drippings on her blouse.

SINGLE PARTICIPLE: (using past participle) Delighted, the little girl ran to her new bicycle.

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Gerunds (-ing nouns) can function in any place a regular noun would be in a sentence. You can usually test it by mentally saying "the act of ____" to yourself. That would check if the -ing word is, in fact, functioning as a noun, and not some other part of speech.

Subject: Shopping is fun.

Direct Object: I like shopping.

Indirect Object: I gave shopping all my attention.

Predicate Noun: The best job is shopping for other people.

Appositive: My hobby, shopping for shoes, makes me happy.

Object of preposition: I take pleasure in shopping for shoes.


Present participles are -ing words used as adjectives. They modify nouns. Sometimes these can really seem like verbs, but they aren't. You can tell because an -ing word that is being used as a noun MUST have a helping verb in front of it.

Adjective: Running wildly, she slipped and fell.

Verb: She was running wildly and then slipped and fell.

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Since they are both formed from verbs, they are called verbals.  The present participle would have an ing, just as a gerund does.  You can use the same verb as a gerund or a participle.  As a gerund, the verb becomes a noun.  As a participle, the verb describes a noun.

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A gerund is a noun form of a verb, for example:

Smoking is prohibited in public places.

A present participle is an adjectival form of a verb, for example:

While we think the accused is guilty, we don't really have a smoking gun.

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