Consider this example:

"She was out of school for a long time when she caught the measles, giving the disease to her family."

I am editing a document in which the author frequently uses the above construction, i.e. uses a gerund to begin a modifying phrase that describes something that happened in the past. It seems incorrect to me, since "giving" implies an ongoing action rather than one that was completed. I don't know if it is, but if so, what is the grammatical rule that makes it so.

In the above sentence, I am inclined to change the phrase to "and gave the disease to her family" OR "which she gave to her family".

I would appreciate your comments on this.

  • 2
    It's OK. You are referring to "participle clauses". learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/quick-grammar/…
    – Færd
    Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 15:30
  • 2
    Yes, the -ing form here is participle rather than gerund. I agree with OP's inclination to change it in this particular sentence, but in many another it is perfectly fine—e.g., “He ended his remarks and sat down, giving Owen the opportunity to rebut.” Now, what is the difference? I cannot readily put my finger on it. Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 16:17
  • 1
    Perhaps the problem is that in OP's sentence the subject of the main clause is already the subject of a subordinate clause as well before becoming the subject of the participle. Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 16:19
  • Starting a sentence with the -ing form of a verb is never OK.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 19:04

3 Answers 3


You can't call "giving" in your example "gerund" which is:

The gerund (/ˈdʒɛrənd/ or /ˈdʒɛrʌnd/) is a non-finite verb form that can function as a noun in Latin and English grammar. The English gerund ends in -ing (as in "I enjoy playing basketball"). The same verb form also serves as the English present participle (which has an adjectival or adverbial function) and as a pure verbal noun. Thus the -ing form in the English language can function as a noun, verb, adjective or sometimes adverb; in certain sentences the distinction can be arbitrary.

As the above explanation states, it is a bit tricky and arbitrary to tell which is "gerund" and which is "present participle". However, one thing to note is "gerund" is used as a noun.

Giving (spreading) the disease to her family was terrible. (It was terrible giving the disease to her family)

In the above sentence, "Giving" was used as a subject of the sentence. It is a gerund. However, in your example:

She was out of school for a long time when she caught the measles, giving the disease to her family.

It can't be a gerund because a noun can't stand alone in a sentence (some exceptions exist though). That's why it is a "present participle".

As commented above, it is called "participle clause/construction' and its primary purpose is to omit; (1) a conjunction, (2) a subject (when it is the same as the independent clause).

She was out of school for a long time when she caught the measles and she gave the disease to her family.

This sentence can be shortened using the "participle clause/construction". It doesn't matter whether there are simultaneous or sequential actions. It will be judged by the context.

I advise you to visit the site recommended in the comment and learn how it works.


', giving the disease to her family' is an adverbial phrase. It gets its tense from the main verb. 'Giving' is a participle and not a gerund in this case.


As Rathony shows, the word "giving" is a participle, not a gerund. It's creating an adverbial phrase showing result.

"She was out of school for a long time when she caught the measles, giving the disease to her family."

The italicized part is the main clause, and the bold text is the adverbial phrase. Participles can be used to create both adjective phrases and adverbial phrases, describing either nouns or verbs.

You can read some more examples of the participle being used this way in this excellent blog post.

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