THE PRESENT PARTICIPLE

The present participle of most verbs has the form base+ing and is used in the following ways:

a. as part of the continuous form of a verb
(See continuous tenses in VERB TENSES)

Example:

  • I am working
  • he was singing
  • they have been walking

b. after verbs of movement/position in the pattern: verb + present participle

Example

  • She went shopping
  • He lay looking up at the clouds
  • She came running towards me

This construction is particularly useful with the verb ‘to go’, as in these common expressions :

to go shopping
to go ski-ing
to go fishing
to go surfing
to go walking
to go swimming
to go running
to go dancing

c. after verbs of perception in the pattern:
verb + object + present participle

Example

  • I heard someone singing.
  • He saw his friend walking along the road.
  • I can smell something burning!

NOTE: There is a difference in meaning when such a sentence contains a zero-infinitive rather than a participle. The infinitive refers to a complete action, but the participle refers to an incomplete action, or part of an action.

Compare:

  • I heard Joanna singing (= she had started before I heard her, and probably went on afterwards)
  • I heard Joanna sing (= I heard her complete performance)

d. as an adjective

Examples

amazing, worrying, exciting, boring.

  • It was an amazing film.
  • It’s a bit worrying when the police stop you
  • Dark billowing clouds often precede a storm.
  • Racing cars can go as fast as 400kph.
  • He was trapped inside the burning house.
  • Many of his paintings depict the setting sun.

e. with the verbs spend and waste, in the pattern:
verb + time/money expression + present participle

Example

  • My boss spends two hours a day travelling to work.
  • Don’t waste time playing computer games!
  • They’ve spent the whole day shopping.

f. with the verbs catch and find, in the pattern:
verb + object + present participle:

With catch, the participle always refers to an action which causes annoyance or anger:

  • If I catch you stealing my apples again, there’ll be trouble!
  • Don’t let him catch you reading his letters.

This is not the case with find, which is unemotional:

  • We found some money lying on the ground.
  • They found their mother sitting in the garden.

g. to replace a sentence or part of a sentence:

When two actions occur at the same time, and are done by the same person or thing, we can use a present participle to describe one of them:

  • They went out into the snow. They laughed as they went. Present Participle 3They went laughing out into the snow. 
  • He whistled to himself. He walked down the road. Present Participle 3 Whistling to himself, he walked down the road.

When one action follows very quickly after another done by the same person or thing, we can express the first action with a present participle:

  • He put on his coat and left the house.
    Putting on his coat, he left the house. 

  • She dropped the gun and put her hands in the air.
    Dropping the gun, she put her hands in the air.

The present participle can be used instead of a phrase starting as, since, because, and it explains the cause or reason for an action:

  • Feeling hungry, he went into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
    (= because he felt hungry…)
  • Being poor, he didn’t spend much on clothes.
  • Knowing that his mother was coming, he cleaned the flat.

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