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.