The present participle is a form of a verb that ends in –ing and follows another verb to form the present continuous tense. This tense refers to actions or events that are taking place now.
- Three balloons are rising steadily into the sky.
- A noisy crowd is watching two cocks fight in a cockpit.
- I saw him stealing from a drawer.
In the above sentences, rising, watching and stealing are present participles. The first two sentences ‘Three balloons are rising steadily into the sky’ and ‘A noisy crowd is watching two cocks fight in a cockpit’ are in the present continuous tense.
More examples of present participle
- It is still raining.
- The dog is barking at the clown.
- She went window-shopping with her friends.
- A small dog is chasing a big cat.
- “What am I doing?” “Can’t you see I am cooking!”
Position of present participle in a sentence
The present participle can come before:
- He is scratching his head.
- Father and son are throwing and catching a ball on the beach.
- We are all getting older.
- Jack and Jill are becoming close friends.
an object and a complement
- His behaviour is making her angry. (Object: her; complement: angry)
- Mum and dad are buying us ice cream.
- Thay are arriving together.
- He is riding a camel alone in the desert.
Verb + preposition + present participle
- I had to apologize for stepping on her toes.
- They finally decided on robbing a smaller bank.
- Sometimes Jack and Jill think of going up the hill.
- She’s going to concentrate on passing her exam.
Present participle after conjunction
In sentences where present participle and conjunction are used, the present participle ( –ing form) comes after the conjunction. Such sentences are only possible when the subjects of both clauses are the same.
- Our boss went to play golf in spite of feeling unwell.
- Johnny has not been seen since leaving home.
- She is paid well for cleaning the office.
- When leaving his bedroom, he never fails to turn off the light.
- We always have some hot drink after swimming.
Clauses sharing same subject
The –ing clause is usually placed in front of the main clause when describing two actions being done at the same time. Both clauses share the same subject.
- Pointing at the bright object, he shouted “Look! UFO!”
- Rowing the boat upstream, we puffed and panted.
- In describing one event happening after another, the –ing clause is placed in front of the main clause.
- Diving into the water, he swam to the side of the pool.
- Picking up a stone, the boy threw it at a passing train.
Clauses having different subjects
When the main clause and the –ing clause have different subjects, the –ing clause should not be placed in front of the main clause as doing so gives rise to a dangling participle (also known as a dangling modifier).
After drinking for three hours, the sky began to get dark.
(The subject of the main clause must be the one [noun] drinking for three hours. But the subject of the main clause is sky, which is clearly different and wrong. Correction: After drinking for three hours, we saw/noticed the sky begin to get dark.)
Looking at the sky, black clouds are spreading.
(Looking at the sky requires a subject such as I or we, not black clouds. Since both clauses have different subjects, a dangling participle results. Correction: Looking at the sky, I saw black clouds spread across the sky.)
Simple verb form + direct object + present participle
In such a construction, the –ing clause acts as the complement of the object. It indicates what the object, whether it is a person or a thing, is doing. The simple form of the verb can be used in place of the present participle without significantly affecting the meaning of the sentence.
- We watched them fighting in the street.
- We watched them fight in the street.
- I saw a couple of ducks waddling along the river bank.
- I saw a couiple of ducks waddle along the river bank.
- I heard a clock ticking somewhere in the house.
- I heard a clock tick somewhere in the house.
- This photo shows him riding the farmer's cow.
- This photo shows him ride the farmer's cow.
- Someone caught him stealing a cookie from the cookie jar.
- Someoen caught him steal a cookie from the cookie jar.
In the last example sentences above, the conjunction while could be better used without giving a different meaning to each sentence. The use of while indicates an action is still going on in the subordinate clause when the action in the main clause takes place.
- We watched them while they were fighting in the street.
- I saw a couple of ducks while they were waddling along the river.
- I heard a clock while it was ticking somewhere in the house.
- This photo shows him while he was riding the farmer’s cow.
- Someone caught him while he was stealing a cookie from the cookie jar.
When the subjects of the two clauses, main clause and subordinate clause, are not the same, the word with can be used.
- He walked a long distance with sweat trickling down his face.
- With a helicopter appearing above them, they thought it was probably patrolling the coastal waters.
- With the sky clearing, we knew we had the opportunity to go fishing.