Gerunds vs Present Participles: the simplified explanation

A gerund is easy to spot in any sentence provided you know how it functions. A gerund is a noun formed from a verb by adding -ing and it’s strictly a noun. All gerunds have -ing, but not all words with this ending are gerunds. Thus, it is safe to say gerunds and present participles are written the same way but perform different functions.


Let’s look at these examples:

  1. Swimming is my hobby.
  2. He likes feeding the birds.
  3. She doesn’t know anything about teaching.

Look at the above examples carefully and examine how the underlined words are used. They’re all gerunds.

Let’s rephrase them:

  1. The act of swimming is my hobby (name of the hobby).
  2. The act of feeding the birds is what he likes (name of what he likes).
  3. He doesn’t know anything about the act of teaching (name of that action).

There are verbs that can precede gerunds. Examples: like, love, enjoy, stop, prefer, recommend, hate, etc.


  1. I love reading.
  2. I prefer travelling at the weekend.

In addition, prepositions of, about, from, for are usually followed by gerunds.


  1. I’m tired of playing video games.
  2. He was debarred from writing more letters.

Present participle

This is a verb form that shows an action that is going on at the time specified.


  1. My mother is praising him at present.
  2. I’m dancing to the beat of the music.
  3. We were dreaming of a white Christmas.

Let’s rephrase them:

  1. My mother is performing the act of praising him at present.
  2. I’m performing the act of dancing to the beat of the music.
  3. We’re performing the act of dreaming of a white Christmas.

These examples show the actions performed by the subjects of the sentences and they complete the verb to be (is, am, are).

Note: both gerunds and present participles can follow to be verbs, but this is how to differentiate them.


  1. His hobby is feeding the fish.
  2. He is feeding the fish at the moment.

1 is gerund because it tells us what his hobby is (the name of his hobby). We can also say ‘Feeding the fish is his hobby.’ Simply put, the first and second parts mean the same thing.

In 2, however, ‘feeding’ is the action performed by ‘He’ and we can’t rewrite the sentence as: ‘Feeding the fish at the moment is he.


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