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What is the difference between a gerund and a participle?

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A gerund is a present participle masquerading as a noun. – moioci Aug 5 '10 at 21:46
up vote 20 down vote accepted

A gerund is a form of a verb used as a noun, whereas a participle is a form of verb used as an adjective or as a verb in conjunction with an auxiliary verb.

In English, the present participle has the same form as the gerund, and the difference is in how they are used. When used with an auxiliary verb ("is walking"), it serves as a verb and is the present participle. When used as an adjective ("a walking contradiction") it is also a participle. However, when used as a noun ("walking is good for you"), it is a gerund.

See the Wikipedia articles on gerund and participle for more details.

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N.B. It's not really so simple as a gerund being a "verb used as a noun". Think about "walking is good for you", and consider the following variant: "Walking quickly is good for you". Notice how an adverbial form is used to modify what you are positing to be a "noun". Consider also the pair "Him arriving"~"His arrival". The latter is ostensibly noun-like, but the former has some important differences. – Neil Coffey Jan 29 '13 at 15:54
@Neil, whoa, let's look at the words I actually used: used as a noun, not "is a noun". The syntactic role taken by the gerund or gerund phrase is that of the subject of a verb, which any elementary school student could tell you is a noun. If we want to get fancy in our terminology, a gerund phrase is a kind of verb phrase headed by the gerund-participle (-ing) form of a verb, which used in a syntactic slot for a noun phrase. – nohat Jan 29 '13 at 19:14
I repeat: it's really much more complex than this. I also think that defining "noun" as "subject of the verb" is extremely questionable, incidentally, but in any case I don't think it helps you here. How in your definitions do you account for e.g. "I disagree with him smoking". Your answer is fine as a very simplistic starting point-- my objection is simply that you're failing to mention or acknowledge that things are in reality much more complex. – Neil Coffey Jan 29 '13 at 20:32
@Neil The analysis of constructions with pronouns + gerunds is complicated and not even universally agreed upon. Answers to general questions of grammar will always be simplifications. I would expect that most people understand, at some level, the fractal nature of the grammar of natural language, and there are always edge cases. The original questioner wasn't asking specifically about those cases, and in all likelihood probably wouldn't have been all that interested in a detailed analysis of them. I did link to the Wikipedia articles on the topic, which cover it pretty exhaustively. – nohat Jan 29 '13 at 23:13
@NeilCoffey: Ok, so are you suggesting that "the coming of Christ" and "of the coming week" are very old, while "I prefer him coming first" is relatively new (possibly Early Modern)? And what about "I prefer his coming first" and "I see him coming" (verb of perception): I would expect the last two to be older? I wasn't sure about the full scope of your two constructions. – Cerberus Sep 1 '13 at 1:01

A gerund is used as a noun, a participle as an adjective.


Traveling is fun.


The traveling man stopped.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab has good explanation sheets on gerunds and participles.

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A gerund is always used as a noun in a sentence but a participle always modifies the meaning of an adjective and an adverb.

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protected by RegDwigнt Jan 29 '13 at 15:01

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