Present Participle

About the Present Participle, we already know two things from this previous page:

  1. that it has an -ing ending; and
  2. that we can distinguish it from a Gerund.

(Refresh your memory if needed, by reading just this part on Recognizing Participles and then come back and continue.)

Functions

By the end of this lesson, you will get a deeper understanding of the Present Participle. With the help of a number of examples, you will be able to understand every job it is capable of doing in sentences.

The Present Participle can function in the following ways:

1. As Part of Some Finite Verb Phrases...

The Present Participle is the word in any finite verb phrase that shows the continuous (progressive) aspect.

If you go to the page on list of verbs, you will see all the finite verb phrases that can be formed from the verb eat.

Out of these forms, I will take four examples and show you what I mean:

  • am eating
  • had been eating
  • was being eaten
  • will be eating

These phrases show the aspect of continuity. The word in bold in each of these phrases is the word which is specially responsible for expressing continuity and that word is a present participle.

(Please be aware, that this participle can sometimes occur along with a past participle, as in the second and third examples above, where been and eaten are past participles.)

2. As a Participial Adjective...

An adjective is a word that describes a noun. The adjective lazy in the phrase lazy dog describes the noun dog.

When we use a participle in this way, we call it a participial adjective. In the phrase sleeping dog, the word sleeping describes the dog.

Now there is a difference between an ordinary descriptive adjective and a participial adjective.

  • The word sleeping (participial adjective) is derived from a verb (sleep) and therefore, is an action-based descriptive word.

  • The word lazy (descriptive adjective) is a quality-based descriptive word.

The present participle (as well as, the past participle) can be used in this way. This type of use, where the adjective, is close to the noun (almost always on its left side in English) is called an attributive use.


3. As a Predicative Adjective...

Look at this sentence:

The little boy is smart.

The adjective smart is an essential part of the predicate. If you remove smart from the sentence, you don't have a sentence. The adjective smart is called a predicative adjective. The other adjective little (an attributive adjective) can be removed and we would still have a sentence.

A present participle can be used as a predicative adjective...
as in the following sentence:

The news is disturbing.

If you remove the present participle (disturbing) from this sentence, you will not have the sentence.

4. As a Verb with an Object...

Look at these sentences:

  • Opening the gate, the man entered the compound.
  • We saw the man carrying a box on his head.

The participle opening has the noun gate as its object; and the participle carrying has the noun box as its object.

This is not surprising, because participles are verbs by birth. They may go around doing other things (like describing nouns) which "respectable" verbs don't do, but the verb-genes are in them!

5. As an Adjective with Modifiers and Determiners.

Look at these phrases:

  • the loudly shouting boss
  • my two extremely struggling friends

The present participle shouting is modified by the adverb (a modifier) loudly and the word the (an article) precedes the modifier.

In the next phrase, the participle struggling is modified by the degree modifier extremely and we have the determiners two and my preceding.

The two participles in the examples are behaving here exactly like adjectives in a noun phrase. They allow modifiers and determiners to keep them company.

Past participles too behave in this way.

6. As a Verb with an Active or a Passive Meaning...

Look at these sentences.

  • The crowd watching the match loudly cheered.
  • The games being played occupy a lot of our time.

The participle watching has an active meaning because it describes the crowd as doing the watching activity.

The participle being played has a passive meaning because the games don't do the playing, but have the playing done to them.

My Advice...

Try to understand one function at a time (say, one or two per day). It's better not to try to get them all at one sitting. As you learn the rest of grammar, the fine points about participles (present or past or perfect) will become clearer.

For Further Reading and Study...


Related Pages

The Study of Verbals

Infinitives

Gerund

The Study of Participles

What is a Participle?

Present Participle

Past Participle - Forms

Past Participle - Functions

For the Study of Verbs