In sentences like, "I'm dying to get to you and "I'm learning to live again" and "i was preparing to go for surgery when you called" what are "dying", "learning" and "preparing" functioning as? Are they verb(ing) or are they gerunds.


3 Answers 3


It isn’t altogether clear what you're really asking here, because “gerunds” are always ‑ING verbs in the first place. Here’s how it really works. All verbs have a completely regular inflection ending in ‑ING. The thing is that such words can be used in two completely different ways: either they’re still verbs or they aren’t.

  1. The first way you can use ‑ING words retains their properties as verbs, like being the head of a verb phrase, taking verbal arguments like objects or other complements, and being modifiable by adverbs.

    • earning a living
    • being happy
    • casually running a red light
    • always giving him a hard time

    These are still verbs when you do that even when you use the whole verb phrase as a substantive (something the Latinists call a “gerund”, but that’s not a great term in English) or as a modifier (something the Latinists call a “participle”, ditto).

  2. The second way you can use ‑ING words strips them of their properties as verbs. When you do that, the result becomes another part of speech, usually a noun or an adjective. It is no longer a verb, so it can no longer take objects or head a verb phrase.

    If it’s a noun, it can be made plural, take adjectives, or be connected with prepositions. Other possibilities than nouns exist, like adjectives or prepositions.

    • lifetime earnings
    • during the day
    • the running of the bulls
    • owing to his earlier troubles
    • alien beings from outer space
    • my aching bones

In all your examples, those ‑ING words are still verbs, so yours are all of the first type not of the second. They are being used to create verb phrases with the progressive or continuous aspect.

  • 2
    If one has 'cannot be used after possessives' as a property of a verb, 'Brown's deftly painting a portrait of his daughter ...' presents a strong argument for a gradience approach to ing-forms on the noun ... verb continuum as recommended by Quirk et al. But we've had all this discussion before. Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 17:58
  • @EdwinAshworth Can you supply a link to that ? It sounds sensible.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 21:21
  • @Nigel J This thread was closed, but Kreyer gives a reference. Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 22:39
  • @EdwinAshworth '...gradient between verbs and nouns...' that's the one. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 22:43

The OP needs to look at both answers so far, by @KarlG and @tchrist, for the full picture about ways of using -ing verbs.

There are two ways of using -ing verbs that retain their properties as verbs, in progressive constructions and as gerunds.

Your examples all use progressive constructions.


They are present participles used to form the present tense progressive or, in your last example, past tense progressive.

Gerunds would be:

Dying alone was his greatest fear.

Learning Mandarin is difficult.

Preparing a turkey for roasting takes time.

  • 1
    Why can't it take objects? In an example like, "Eating pizza takes time." is Pizza not an object? Also Karl gave an example, "learning Mandarin is difficult," is Mandarin not the object here?
    – Tim2k20
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 21:39
  • Uh, I never suggested that a gerund couldn't take objects. Two of my examples do. Did you put this comment in the wrong place?
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 22:11

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