I'm trying to keep this descriptive essay in the past tense. I bolded the words of my concern (and italicized the ones I believe are in the right tense) in the following passage:

As a result of the floor containing thousands of small holes, looking down through them yielded the sight of the rushing waters of the Merrimac River. Passing by this intense stream invoked a fear of falling into the violent, rushing waters.

What my question comes down to is: Are those verbs that end in -ing considered past tense, as well as those ending in -ed? If not, how should I re-write this passage?

2 Answers 2


Containing can be replaced with which contained (past tense) without any change in meaning, so that is compatible with the past tense.

Looking and Passing are gerunds, that is, they are nouns formed from verbs. Since all nouns are compatible with the past tense, so are the gerunds you used.

Also, as a result of the floor containing lots of small holes sounds unnatural. I would instead write since the floor contained lots of small holes.

  • 1
    If you substitute ’which contained’ for ‘containing’, you create a relative clause. That won’t do, because you then suggest that either the floor itself is looking down, or that it caused the looking down. Only ‘containing’ will make sense in the context. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 20:10
  • I disagree. The problem here is caused by the faulty wording of the first line: As a result of the floor [containing/which contained lots of small holes], looking down through them yielded... If you replaced as a result of ... containing with since ... contained, there is nothing wrong with it.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 20:20
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    "As a result of the floor which contained small holes" implies that the floor itself is responsible for the view of the river, rather than (more accurately) the fact that the floor contains holes. The whole phrase is written rather awkwardly, actually: the fact that looking through a hole yields a particular view is only tangentially related to the fact that the hole exists. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 20:23
  • Do you see 'which contained . . .' as an integrated relative clause or as a supplementary relative clause? In other words, would it be enclosed in commas? Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 20:28

No, they are not. They are not tenses at all. Words in ‘-ing’ derived from verbs are called variously gerunds, present participles and verbal nouns, depending on their role in the sentence, although they are frequently described simply as ‘-ing’ forms. The two verbs in italics, on the other hand, are in the past tense, and they are enough to show that the scene is set in the past.

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    The '-ing' suffix can also construct verbal adjectives, although that isn't the sense here. As an example, the sentence "Flying planes can be dangerous" is ambiguous: it can be warning either about the act of flying a plane (noun sense) or about planes which are in flight (adjective sense). Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 20:25

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