What is the origin of the suffix -ing used to form gerunds and present participles?
Why is the suffix the same in both cases?


The two -ing's are actually not the same etymologically. One developed from Proto-Germanic *-ungō, which has survived in contemporary German (packagingVerpackung). The other -ing developed from Old English -ende, from Proto-Germanic *-andz — again, compare contemporary German (singingsingend) — and goes back to the Proto-Indo-European *-nt- (cf. Greek -ον or Latin -ans).

For further details, see Etymonline or Wiktionary.

  • 7
    Wow, great answer. As the sources say, the second -ing (participle) goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European *-nt- (Sanskrit -ant, Greek -on, Latin -ans). The first -ing (gerund) seems to be unique to the Germanic family. Feb 23 '11 at 11:10
  • 6
    For which reason, the stigmatised "talkin'" may be more consonant with the history of the language than the standard "talking" - but only as a participle ("We were talkin'"). As a gerund ("Huntin', shootin' and fishin'") it has no historical basis.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 23 '11 at 17:59
  • The real Greek and Latin suffixes are actually -ντ- and -nt-. The nominatives you mention do not reflect the stems of the suffixes (most nominatives don't reflect stems). // A question that is arises is, what is the Proto-Indo-European root of *-ungō, and is it related to Latin -(i)on-? May 3 '13 at 17:49
  • 2
    But one of the things that happens to final velar nasals is that they revert to dentals in English. After all, there weren't any phonemic velar nasals in the language until /ŋɡ/ became /ŋ/ in some cases but not in others, leaving contrasts like finger/singer, sing/sin, thing/thin, and longer (noun; 'one who longs') vs longer (adj; 'more long'). May 3 '13 at 18:23

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