Friday, June 25, 2004

-ing words in English

The –ing words in English do not help us to know the part of speech. To know the part of speech, we have to look sat the company the –ing word keeps. The company a word keeps consists of the words around it. By looking at the words around the –ing word, we can determine its part of speech.
The easiest way for me to determine whether the –ing word is a main verb is to look in front of it for a be verb (be, am, is, are, was, were, been). When there is a be verb in front of the –ing word, it is usually a verb as we can see in these sentences.


I am looking at used cars.
I was looking at new cars until I saw their prices.
I should have been looking for a used care from the beginning.
I will be looking for another two weeks.


The cars have been inspected.
The cars are cleaned and polished.
The cars will be sold within a month.

When the be verb is not in front of the –ing word, it is probably not functioning as a verb. It can then be either a gerund or a participle. Particles were discussed in the June 3 post. To recall, the present participle is the –ing word functioning as an adjective as in the following sentences.

The boring book put him to sleep.
The running girl escaped the mugger.
The dancing man felt happy to be at the party.

-ing words can also function as nouns. When they do, they are called gerunds. Gerunds are usually singular so they agree with the singular third person form of the present tense verb (the form with the added s).

Dancing is an activity that is both fun and good exercise.
She gave playing basketball a try.
Playing basketball in the NBA was his goal twenty years ago.

To briefly summarize, the –ing word can be either a verb, noun, or adjective. When it is a verb, there is usually a be verb (be, am, is, are, was, were, been) before it. The –ing word that acts as an adjective is called a present participle. When the –ing word is used as a noun, it is called a gerund.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Same and articles with quantity adjectives


Same is a word which is generally preceded by the.
I would like the same thing she is having.

a few, a little, a great many

Certain adjectives that quantify are preceded by the indefinite article when they modify generic or nonspecific nouns.

I would like a little more milk if you please.
A few more minutes won't hurt.
A great many people came to the games.

The can also be used with these words, but the usually points to a specific or definite noun.
The few who helped will be reward.
The little wine that remains will soon spoil.
The many who came were not disappointed.

It seems like there should be an adjective clause to follow the noun to justify the definite article in these cases, but a prepositional phrase is also possible.
The few of humble beginnings served honorably as well.

Few, little, and many can also be used without an article in front of them.
Few people like to sit in the rain waiting for a bus.
Many people attended the concert.
Little is done when there is much talk.

In these cases, we seem to be making a general observation.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Gerunds and infinitives cause problems because the guidelines for using them are not always clear. I use guidelines instead of rules because the best grammarians and linguists seem to be able to do is give some guidelines and lists of words.

A gerund is an -ing form of a verb used as a noun.

Dancing is a lot more fun than studying.
I like swimming more than water skiing.
He is a fool when it comes to dancing.

A gerund is different from a present participle because it functions as a noun while a participle functions as an adjective.

The dancing girl left everyone watching in admiration. (participle)
The girl excels at dancing. (gerund)

Gerunds come at the beginning of a sentence more often than infinitives. They also can be possessed. In other words, a noun or pronoun coming before a gerund should be in the possessive.

I really admired his dancing last night.
John's dancing shows a definite need for lessons or an operation because he seems to have two left feet.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Present and Past Participles

Present participle and past participle adjectives can be confusing. Present participles are verbs ending in -ing that are used as adjectives. Past participles are the forms used with the perfect tenses. With regular verbs, they are formed by adding -ed, but with irregular verbs, the past participles are the ones like known, gone, taught.

Present participle:
The boring book put me to sleep in record time.

Past participle:
The bored reader fell asleep very quickly.

One way that the difference between the meaning of the two participles is explained is that the present participle describes something happening or a quality. In our sentence above, the quality of the book for the reader is that it is boring. This is contrasted with the past participle which is supposed to show that something has happened. While this explanation works somewhat for the present participle, it doesn't work for me with the past participle. So it seems like this explanation works when the participles are used as verbs.

This explanation is not very satisfactory for the participles when they work as adjectives. It fails to explain to me the meaning of bored reader. Instead, I think that boring is the quality that the book gives to others. In contrast, the past participle describes the feeling of the person.

In other words, present participle adjectives are used to describe feelings or reactions that other people have of the subject or the noun modified. Past participle adjectives describe the feelings of the subject.

The book is boring. (This is the feeling of the reader.)

Now we can't say in English, except in literary terms, that the book is bored. Books do not have feelings.

The bored reader fell asleep very quickly. (This is the feeling of the reader.)

The boring book put me to sleep in record time. (This reader has these reactions or feelings about the book.)

So if I say that
I am confusing.

I am describing the reactions of other people to me.

If I say that

I am confused.

I am describing my feelings about something.