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Is "swimming" a participle in 'I love swimming'? I think it is participle as it defines the noun 'I' in the above sentence.

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    Swimming is a participle verb form (the present active participle form, to be precise). If you want to call it a participle in I love swimming you will find people to agree with you; but you'll find others disagreeing. You seem to think that "participle" describes some standard thing in English; no doubt you were taught this. Unfortunately, it's not true. There are a lot of different ways to use the -ing form, and "participle" does not have enough precise meaning to describe them. Personally, I would call swimming in that sentence a noun. Though it could be a gerund. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 13:56
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    Quirk et al (ACGEL) would probably say / have said it's towards the nounal end of the noun - verb continuum of ing-forms, without actually having made it to true nounness (contrast 'painting' in 'She loves my new painting'). I tend to agree. The CGEL fans would want you to call it a 'gerund-participle'. Neither school would accept it as a 'participle'. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 20:20

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Your sentence is mildly ambiguous as is, and can be interpreted in one of two possible ways. See John Lawler's and Edwin Ashworth's comments under your question from Sept. 28, 2016:

  1. "Swimming" can be a verbal noun describing a leisure activity. It could very well be replaced with another noun like tennis or volleyball while keeping the rest of the sentence identical.
  2. "Swimming" could also be a gerund. This is a non-finite verb form which is used as a noun, and for any given tense/voice combo*, will always look identical to the participle form. However, the gerund form is a substantive, not a modifier (this means it's used as noun, as opposed to as an adjective/adverb). You can only tell the difference between these two forms from the context.

A sentence which is unambiguously an instance of 1. (verbal noun) would be, "Students at Example High School must sign up for either swimming or volleyball for PE." --Here, 'swimming' is more clearly a verbal noun because it is in parallel with another 'normal' noun (volleyball).

A sentence which is unambiguously an instance of 2. (gerund) would be, "Students at Example High School excel at swimming fast and studying hard." --Here, 'swimming' must be a gerund because it is clearly referring to the action and not to the sport/recreational activity. An attempt to substitute a 'normal' noun here would result in nonsense: "Students at Example High School excel at volleyball fast and studying hard" just doesn't work!

So, which one of the two possibilities most accurately describes the sentence from your question ("I love swimming") depends on what exactly it is you love: 'swimming' as an activity, or 'swimming' as an action.

  • Tense: present, perfect etc.; voice: active or passive
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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

Swimming is a participle verb form (the present active participle form, to be precise). If you want to call it a participle in I love swimming you will find people to agree with you; but you'll find others disagreeing. You seem to think that "participle" describes some standard thing in English; no doubt you were taught this. Unfortunately, it's not true. There are a lot of different ways to use the -ing form, and "participle" does not have enough precise meaning to describe them. Personally, I would call swimming in that sentence a noun. Though it could be a gerund.

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