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PARTICIPLES-GERUNDS-INFINITIVES


A participle is a verbal that is used as an adjective and most often ends in -ing or -ed. The term verbal indicates that a participle, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since they function as adjectives, participles modify nouns or pronouns. There are two types of participles: present participles and past participles. Present participles end in -ing. Past participles end in -ed, -en, -d, -t, or -n, as in the words asked, eaten, saved, dealt, and seen.

  • The crying baby had a wet diaper.
  • Shaken, he walked away from the wrecked car.
  • The burning log fell off the fire.
  • Smiling, she hugged the panting dog.
A participial phrase is a group of words consisting of a participle and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the participle, such as:

Removing his coat, Jack rushed to the river.

The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying Jack.
Removing (participle)
his coat (direct object of action expressed in participle)

Delores noticed her cousin walking along the shoreline.

The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying cousin.
walking (participle)
along the shoreline (prepositional phrase as adverb)

Children introduced to music early develop strong intellectual skills.

The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying children.
introduced (to) (participle)
music (direct object of action expressed in participle)
early (adverb)

Having been a gymnast, Lynn knew the importance of exercise.

The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying Lynn.
Having been (participle)
a gymnast (subject complement for Lynn, via state of being expressed in participle)

Placement: In order to prevent confusion, a participial phrase must be placed as close to the noun it modifies as possible, and the noun must be clearly stated.

  • Carrying a heavy pile of books, his foot caught on a step. *
  • Carrying a heavy pile of books, he caught his foot on a step.

In the first sentence there is no clear indication of who or what is performing the action expressed in the participle carrying. Certainly foot can't be logically understood to function in this way. This situation is an example of a dangling modifier error since the modifier (the participial phrase) is not modifying any specific noun in the sentence and is thus left "dangling." Since a person must be doing the carrying for the sentence to make sense, a noun or pronoun that refers to a person must be in the place immediately after the participial phrase, as in the second sentence. (For more information on dangling modifiers, see our handout at

Punctuation: When a participial phrase begins a sentence, a comma should be placed after the phrase.

  • Arriving at the store, I found that it was closed.
  • Washing and polishing the car, Frank developed sore muscles.

If the participle or participial phrase comes in the middle of a sentence, it should be set off with commas only if the information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

  • Sid, watching an old movie, drifted in and out of sleep.
  • The church, destroyed by a fire, was never rebuilt.

Note that if the participial phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence, no commas should be used:

  • The student earning the highest grade point average will receive a special award.
  • The guy wearing the chicken costume is my cousin.

If a participial phrase comes at the end of a sentence, a comma usually precedes the phrase if it modifies an earlier word in the sentence but not if the phrase directly follows the word it modifies.

  • The local residents often saw Ken wandering through the streets.
    (The phrase modifies Ken, not residents.)
  • Tom nervously watched the woman, alarmed by her silence.
    (The phrase modifies Tom, not woman.)

 

Points to remember:
1. A participle is a verbal ending in -ing (present) or -ed, -en, -d, -t, or -n (past) that functions as an adjective, modifying a noun or pronoun.
2. A participial phrase consists of a participle plus modifier(s), object(s), and/or complement(s).
3. Participles and participial phrases must be placed as close to the nouns or pronouns they modify as possible, and those nouns or pronouns must be clearly stated.
4. A participial phrase is set off with commas when it: a) comes at the beginning of a sentence, b) interrupts a sentence as a nonessential element, or c) comes at the end of a sentence and is separated from the word it modifies.

Comparing Gerunds and Participles

Look at the following pair of sentences. In the first, the use of a gerund (functioning as a noun) allows the meaning to be expressed more precisely than in the second. In the first sentence the interrupting itself, a specific behavior, is precisely indicated as the cause of the speaker's irritation. In the second the cause of the irritation is identified less precisely as Bill, who just happens to have been interrupting. (In the second sentence, interrupting is actually a participle, not a gerund, since it functions as an adjective modifying Bill.)

I was irritated by Bill's constant interrupting.
I was irritated by Bill, constantly interrupting.

The same pattern is shown in these other example pairs below: in the first of each pair, a gerund (noun-function) is used; in the second, a participle (adjective-function). Notice the subtle change in meaning between the two sentences in each pair.

 

Examples:
The guitarist's finger-picking was extraordinary. (The technique was extraordinary.)
The guitarist, finger-picking, was extraordinary. (The person was extraordinary, demonstrating the technique.)

He was not impressed with their competing. (The competing did not impress him.)
He was not impressed with them competing. (They did not impress him as they competed.)

Grandpa enjoyed his grandchildren's running and laughing.
Grandpa enjoyed his grandchildren, running and laughing.* (Ambiguous: who is running and laughing?)

 

Comparing Gerunds and Infinitives

The difference in the form of gerunds and infinitives is quite clear just from comparing the following lists:

Gerunds: swimming, hoping, telling, eating, dreaming
Infinitives: to swim, to hope, to tell, to eat, to dream

Their functions, however, overlap. Gerunds always function as nouns, but infinitives often also serve as nouns. Deciding which to use can be confusing in many situations, especially for people whose first language is not English.

Confusion between gerunds and infinitives occurs primarily in cases in which one or the other functions as the direct object in a sentence. In English some verbs take gerunds as verbal direct objects exclusively while other verbs take only infinitives and still others can take either. Many such verbs are listed below, organized according to which kind of verbal direct object they take.

 

Verbs that take only infinitives as verbal direct objects

agree

decide

expect

hesitate

learn

need

promise

neglect

hope

want

plan

attempt

propose

intend

pretend

 

Examples:
I hope to go on a vacation soon.
(not: I hope going on a vacation soon.*)

He promised to go on a diet.
(not: He promised going on a diet. *)

They agreed to sign the treaty.
(not: They agreed signing the treaty.*)

Because she was nervous, she hesitated to speak.
(not: Because she was nervous, she hesitated speaking.*)

They will attempt to resuscitate the victim
(not: They will attempt resuscitating the victim.*)

 

Verbs that take only gerunds as verbal direct objects

deny

risk

delay

consider

can't help

keep

give up

be fond of

finish

quit

put off

practice

postpone

tolerate

suggest

stop (quit)

regret

enjoy

keep (on)

dislike

admit

avoid

recall

mind

miss

detest

appreciate

recommend

get/be through

get/be tired of

get/be accustomed to

get/be used to

 

Examples:
They always avoid drinking before driving.
(not: They always avoid to drink before driving.*)

I recall asking her that question.
(not: I recall to ask her that question.*)

She put off buying a new jacket.
(not: She put off to buy a new jacket.*)

Mr. Allen enjoys cooking.
(not: Mr. Allen enjoys to cook.*)

Charles keeps calling her.
(not: Charles keeps to call her.*)

 

Verbs that take gerunds or infinitives as verbal direct objects

start

begin

continue

hate

prefer

like

love

try

remember

 

Examples:
She has continued to work at the store.
She has continued working at the store.

They like to go to the movies.
They like going to the movies.

Brent started to walk home.
Brent started walking home.

 

Forget and remember

These two verbs change meaning depending on whether a gerund or infinitive is used as the object.

 

Examples:
Jack forgets to take out the cat. (He regularly forgets.)
Jack forgets taking out the cat. (He did it, but he doesn't remember now.)

Jack forgot to take out the cat. (He never did it.)
Jack forgot taking out the cat. (He did it, but he didn't remember sometime later.)

Jack remembers to take out the cat. (He regularly remembers.)
Jack remembers taking out the cat. (He did it, and he remembers now.)

Jack remembered to take out the cat. (He did it.)
Jack remembered taking out the cat. (He did it, and he remembered sometime later.)

In the second of each pair of example sentences above, the past progressive gerund form having taken can be used in place of taking to avoid any possible confusion.




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