In this sentence, is "playing football" a participle phrase describing the object "him", or is "him playing football" all a gerund phrase functioning as the object?

The problem with English grammar is that too many different words share the same form. I find it difficult to distinguish gerunds and present participles.

  • It is ambiguous. – Hot Licks May 28 '15 at 13:14
  • Why are you trying to “distinguish” these? – tchrist May 28 '15 at 13:34
  • I'm trying to develop software that constructs a sentence, and it requires that everything fit into well defined classes. The biggest challenge turns out to be just understanding the grammar. – William May 28 '15 at 17:42
  • What you need to bake into your code is that verbs of perception can be followed by object + -ing form. How you name the phrase "playing football" is irrelevant imho. – a better oliver May 28 '15 at 20:31
  • How it's classified does make a difference, because participles and gerunds have different rules governing their use. A participle phrase can only be an adjective, but a gerund has more uses. Also the structure of the sentence is different depending on what category it fits in. – William May 28 '15 at 21:43

In "I saw him playing football" "playing" is traditionally considered a participle, at least grammars deal with this structure in the chapter participles.

But that is mere convention. You can consider "playing" a gerund as well. I saw him (in the act of) playing football/I saw him (at) playing football.

There is only one way out of this dilemma of English. In some cases where it can't be determined unambigously whether an ing-form is a participle or a gerund to call it gp-form (gerund or participle).


The -ing form of the verb, "playing" is not a gerund. But in the following example, it is: "Playing football is fun". - "playing" is being used a noun (subject).

“him playing football” = gerund phrase functioning as the object of the verb "see".

(Edited to better address the question)

  • So you're saying that "playing football" is an elliptical adverb clause that's short for "while he was playing football" describing the verb saw? – William May 28 '15 at 17:50
  • No. I just tried to illustrate the function of a gerund, for your question appeared to have some confusion about it. – Sankarane May 28 '15 at 17:54
  • Why can't my example sentence use the gerund? "him playing football" can be interpreted as a gerund phrase functioning as the object of saw. – William May 28 '15 at 18:07
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    A gerund phrase is a gerund and all of it's complements and modifiers. Why is "him playing football" not a gerund phrase? – William May 28 '15 at 18:31
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    A gerund (phrase) can also be an object though, it does not have to be the subject. – William May 28 '15 at 18:40

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