What is the difference between a gerund and a participle?


3 Answers 3


A gerund is a form of a verb used as a noun, whereas a participle is a form of verb used as an adjective or as a verb in conjunction with an auxiliary verb.

In English, the present participle has the same form as the gerund, and the difference is in how they are used. When used with an auxiliary verb ("is walking"), it serves as a verb and is the present participle. When used as an adjective ("a walking contradiction") it is also a participle. However, when used as a noun ("walking is good for you"), it is a gerund.

See the Wikipedia articles on gerund and participle for more details.

  • 5
    @Neil, whoa, let's look at the words I actually used: used as a noun, not "is a noun". The syntactic role taken by the gerund or gerund phrase is that of the subject of a verb, which any elementary school student could tell you is a noun. If we want to get fancy in our terminology, a gerund phrase is a kind of verb phrase headed by the gerund-participle (-ing) form of a verb, which used in a syntactic slot for a noun phrase.
    – nohat
    Jan 29, 2013 at 19:14
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    @Neil The analysis of constructions with pronouns + gerunds is complicated and not even universally agreed upon. Answers to general questions of grammar will always be simplifications. I would expect that most people understand, at some level, the fractal nature of the grammar of natural language, and there are always edge cases. The original questioner wasn't asking specifically about those cases, and in all likelihood probably wouldn't have been all that interested in a detailed analysis of them. I did link to the Wikipedia articles on the topic, which cover it pretty exhaustively.
    – nohat
    Jan 29, 2013 at 23:13
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    @NeilCoffey: Gerunds are traditionally analysed as being able to function as constituents the same way as nouns, but taking mostly verbal arguments themselves. So they are "externally" nouns, "internally" verbs. And there are always edge cases, as Nohat says. But the criterion "a gerund phrase can be replaced with a noun" is in most cases fairly clear and satisfactory. Aug 30, 2013 at 13:25
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    @Cerberus - I would broadly agree (with the odd caveat: by 'noun' we really mean 'noun phrase', and people need to appreciate what this and 'gerund phrase' actually means). Essentially, the thing I'm keen to warn people against are the nonsense pseudo-arguments that spring up around gerunds, e.g. the supposed logic behind insisting on replacing "Him" with "His" in "Him coming wouldn't be a problem". Aug 30, 2013 at 19:52
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    @NeilCoffey: Ok, so are you suggesting that "the coming of Christ" and "of the coming week" are very old, while "I prefer him coming first" is relatively new (possibly Early Modern)? And what about "I prefer his coming first" and "I see him coming" (verb of perception): I would expect the last two to be older? I wasn't sure about the full scope of your two constructions. Sep 1, 2013 at 1:01

A gerund is used as a noun, a participle as an adjective.


Traveling is fun.


The traveling man stopped.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab has good explanation sheets on gerunds and participles.

  • I'd say this is far too clumsy an approach. 'Flying planes can be dangerous' is certainly not using 'flying' as [if it were?] a noun (unlike 'Flying can be dangerous'), but is ambiguous between the adjective and the more verblike sense. Apr 6, 2016 at 15:16

A gerund is always used as a noun in a sentence but a participle always modifies the meaning of an adjective and an adverb.

  • He was snoring? Apr 6, 2016 at 15:35
  • Can't a participle modify a noun as well? In a phrase like "Sleeping beauty," I believe the word "sleeping" is classified as a participle and it modifies the noun "beauty."
    – herisson
    Aug 5, 2016 at 9:14

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