Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Want to know the difference between a present participle and a gerund? Shut up, of course you do.
Gerunds are nouns--the noun forms of verbs--and they end in -ing. So verbs like "look," "touch," "satisfy," etc. become "looking," "touching," "satisfying."
The problem is that there are these other things called present participles that also end in -ing--and so they look disturbingly like gerunds.
But, where gerunds are nouns, present participles are parts of verb phrases--though they can also modify nouns and verbs, too, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Participles are often the last words in a verb phrase, which is made up of an auxiliary verb (such as "be," "could," "will," etc.) and a main verb (such as a bunch of other verbs). That's not especially important right now, but it makes us look legit.
The way you tell them apart from gerunds is pretty much the same way you tell verbs and nouns apart. For example, in the sentence,
Though right now I am looking, I prefer touching.It's pretty clear that "touching" is a noun and "looking" is a verb. See? You can tell: "Looking" even has its own little auxiliary verb, "am."
It's easy to spot this form of the participle, but what about when it's a modifier? Try the sentence,
She gave me a touching look.Obviously "touching" is an adjective modifying "look."
Now for a tough one:
Looking but not touching is not satisfying.It's pretty clear that "looking" and "touching" are nouns, but "satisfying" is a bit more difficult. Is it a noun or a verb phrase or a modifier? Well, depending on how you read the sentence, it could be a modifier describing the act of looking but not touching, or it could be a noun contrasted with the act of looking but not touching.
Either way, we're confused, so we'll just end it here with the quick and dirty way to differentiate the two:
If it's a noun, it's a gerund; everything else is probably a participle.