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What Is a Present Participle?

A present participle is the -ing form of a verb, serving as an adjective or forming continuous tenses. It breathes life into language, depicting actions in progress or qualities derived from actions. Think of it as a linguistic chameleon, versatile and vibrant. How does it shape the way we perceive time and action in a sentence? Let's uncover its role together.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A present participle is one of five forms a verb can have, with function changing based on where the participle is placed within the sentence. Using these words as adjectives, nouns or components in multi-part verbs is possible. It is easiest to identify this part of speech through its characteristic "ing" ending, which is always present.

A frequent mistake people make when looking at parts of speech is to confuse the simple present with the present participle. When used as a verb, these participles always require one to four auxiliary or "helping" verbs. The phrase "is singing" is an example. "Is" is the auxiliary verb and "singing" is the present participle. When a verb is in simple present form, it can stand alone, such as "He sings."

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

If a person sees a present participle without an auxiliary verb, it might be working as a noun. In this capacity, the present participle may be a subject, subject compliment, object of a preposition, indirect object or direct object. For example, in the sentence "Cheering excites fans," "cheering" is the subject of the verb "excites." A present participle that functions as a noun is called a gerund.

The last function a present participle can have is to act as an adjective. Used this way, the word describes a person, place, animal or thing through its behavior or action. For instance, a person might say "The speeding car is blue." It is clear through the adjective use of the present participle what the car is doing, even though "speeding" is not in the normal verb position with an auxiliary.

One quirk of this part of speech is that, contrary to its label, it does not always indicate that something happens in the present. This depends on what auxiliary verb someone pairs with it. For instance, "was going" is past, while "will be going" is future.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books