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What Is a Present Participle? | Definition & Examples

Verbs updated on  January 9, 2024 3 min read
The present participle form of a verb can be used in two ways: as an adjective or as part of a continuous verb tense.

Every present participle ends in “-ing” (this includes both regular verbs and irregular verbs).

Examples: Present participles
Rubin found linguistics to be a fascinating subject.
Being a bit naughty, the children snuck into the movie theater.
We would love to attend, but we’re competing in a race that day.
I’ve been having vivid dreams lately.

How to form present participles

Both regular and irregular verbs have present participles that end in “-ing.”

Examples: Present participles of regular and irregular verbs
Fearing the coming hurricane, Cheryl left town.
Mattias is just being stubborn.
The new actor’s performance was compelling.

Note
In some cases, the consonant “l” must be doubled to form the present participle.

  • In British English, you generally double the “l” whenever it comes at the end of a two-syllable word and then add “-ing” (e.g., “cancel” becomes “cancelling”).
  • American English applies this rule only if the second syllable receives the emphasis (e.g., the present participle of “cancel” is spelled “canceling,” but “patrol” becomes “patrolling”).

The QuillBot Grammar Checker can help ensure you use the correct present participle form.

How to use a present participle as an adjective

A present participle can function as an adjective that describes a noun or pronoun.

Examples: Present participles as adjectives
Rachelle found the din of the kitchen overstimulating.
The old house had a crumbling, moss-covered facade.
Skydiving was a terrifying but exhilarating experience.

Participial phrases

Participial phrases are groups of words that begin with a participle and act as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun in the main clause.

If a participial phrase begins a sentence, it must be followed by a comma. Similarly, if a participial phrase interrupts a sentence and provides nonessential information, it should be enclosed in commas. No commas are needed if the participle phrase occurs in the middle of a sentence and provides essential information.

Examples: Participial phrases
Hoping for rain, the old farmer observed the sky.
A nurse, opening the door abruptly, announced that the doctor would be in soon.
The boy wearing the red shirt is our top student, Adam.

Note
A dangling participle is a common error that can be avoided by ensuring that the participial phrase occurs directly before or after the noun or pronoun it modifies.

Waiting for the train, a stray dog approached Karen.
Waiting for the train, Karen was approached by a stray dog.
Karen, waiting for the train, was approached by a stray dog.

The first (incorrect) sentence states that a stray dog was waiting for the train. Moving the noun “Karen” immediately before or after the participial phrase makes it clear that she is the one waiting for the train.

Present participles and continuous verb tenses

Each of the three main continuous verb tenses (or “progressive” tenses) includes a present participle preceded by a conjugated form of the auxiliary verb “be.”

The most commonly used continuous verb tenses are past, present, and future.

  • Past continuous (describes an ongoing action that was in progress in the past, sometimes one that was interrupted)
  • Present continuous (describes an action happening now or a temporary habit)
  • Future continuous (describes an action that will occur in the future for an extended period)

Examples: Present participles and continuous verb tenses
Paul was grading tests when the fire alarm went off.
Ariel is talking too loudly.
Tony will be leaving for a new job in New York.

Note
The less frequently used types of continuous tenses are perfect continuous tenses. These begin with the conjugated forms of “have” + “be” (e.g., “has been”), followed by a present participle (e.g., “I have been singing,” “they had been dancing,” “we will have been sitting on a plane for 12 hours”).

Present participles vs gerunds

Gerunds look identical to present participles (i.e., “-ing” verbs), but they differ in function:

  • Present participles function as adjectives and as part of continuous verbs.
  • Gerunds are used strictly as nouns.

Examples: Present participles vs gerunds
Dr. Park was following in the footsteps of his inspiring father.
Sailing off the coast of Greece was the highlight of our vacation.

Quiz

Test your knowledge of present participles with the quiz below.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Parts of speech

Other

Offence vs offense

Participial phrase

At your earliest convenience

Humor or humour

Superlative adjective

Yours truly

Realise or realize

Comparative adjective

Sincerely yours

Learnt or learned

Adjective

Class act

Cancelled or canceled

Pronouns

Devil’s advocate


Frequently asked questions about present participles

What is the “-ing” form of a verb?

The present participle of a verb is also known as the “-ing” form. The “-ing” verbs can be used as adjectives (e.g., “a cunning thief”). They also play a role in the continuous tenses (e.g., “They were planting seeds”).

An “-ing” verb can also be used as a gerund, which functions as a noun (e.g., “Winning was all that mattered”).

What is the present participle of “be”?

“Being” is the present participle of “be” (e.g., “They were being watched”). “Been” is the past participle.

What is the present participle of “lie”?

“Lying” is the present participle form of the verb “lie.”

Verbs with “-ie” endings typically drop the “ie” and take a “y” + “ing” ending in present participle form (e.g., “vie” becomes “vying,” and “die” becomes “dying”).

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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