Forming and Using Present Participles in the English Language

Forming and Using Present Participles in the English Language
Present participles perform more than one important function in the English language. They can, for instance, act as adjectives to modify nouns, as nouns themselves or as aspects of compound verbs, particularly the continuous or progressive tenses. In all instances, they must be formed and used correctly for successful communication, but their structure and use can be a little tricky at times. A few notes may therefore prove helpful, especially for those who are new to the rigours of writing scholarly prose.

In most cases the present participle of a verb is formed simply by adding the ending ‘-ing’ to a base form of the verb. ‘Be’ becomes ‘being,’ ‘read’ becomes ‘reading,’ ‘work’ becomes ‘working,’ ‘see’ becomes ‘seeing’ and ‘instruct’ becomes ‘instructing.’ There are exceptions, however, in which letters must be added, changed or deleted in order to form the present participle correctly.
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If, for example, the verb ends in a consonant followed by a stressed vowel and then another consonant, the final consonant should be doubled before the ‘-ing’ ending is added. ‘Hum’ therefore becomes ‘humming,’ ‘run’ becomes ‘running,’ ‘mop’ becomes ‘mopping,’ ‘submit’ becomes ‘submitting’ and ‘begin’ becomes ‘beginning.’ This rule does not apply, however, when that final syllable is not stressed, so ‘open’ becomes ‘opening’ and ‘loosen’ becomes ‘loosening.’

A different rule applies when the verb ends in ‘-ie.’ With such verbs the ‘ie’ at the end of the verb must be changed to a ‘y’ before the ‘-ing’ ending is added. In this way ‘die’ becomes ‘dying,’ ‘lie’ becomes ‘lying,’ ‘tie’ becomes ‘tying’ and ‘vie’ becomes ‘vying.’

A final exception occurs when a verb ends in a vowel followed by a consonant and then an ‘e.’ In such cases the ‘e’ at the end should be removed before the ‘-ing’ ending is added to form the present participle. ‘Write’ therefore becomes ‘writing,’ ‘take’ becomes ‘taking,’ ‘drive’ becomes ‘driving,’ ‘use’ becomes ‘using,’ ‘mope’ becomes ‘moping’ and ‘hope’ becomes ‘hoping.’ The last two examples here demonstrate how the rules and exceptions allow different but similarly spelled words to be distinguished, with ‘moping’ being the present participle of ‘mope,’ whereas ‘mopping’ is the present participle of ‘mop’ (as shown above), and ‘hoping’ being the present participle of ‘hope,’ whereas ‘hopping’ is the present participle of ‘hop.’

Present participles often function as the final elements in the continuous or progressive tenses of English verbs in the present, past and future, as listed below:

• Present continuous: ‘I am reading,’ ‘the candle is burning’ and ‘they are driving.’
• Present perfect continuous: ‘she has been writing her paper’ and ‘we have been taking extra courses this year.’
• Past continuous: ‘you were studying literature’ and ‘he is submitting his thesis.’
• Past perfect continuous: ‘I had been working until supper’ and ‘we had been moping over the problem for months.’
• Future continuous: ‘she will be shopping as usual’ and ‘he will be watching the football match.’
• Future perfect continuous: ‘they will have been travelling for three days by then’ and ‘you will have been writing all night.’

When present participles are used as adjectives they usually appear before the nouns they modify and imply an action in progress. ‘A burning candle,’ ‘the reading student,’ ‘a writing scholar’ and ‘a hopping rabbit’ are good examples. In many instances present participles are used by themselves as nouns, so fans of poetry can attend a ‘reading,’ colleagues of an academic or scientist can read his or her ‘writing,’ and every story has a ‘beginning’ and an ‘ending.’

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