Present Participle in English: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Present Participles
  • 0:54 Continuous Action
  • 1:34 Perception
  • 2:07 Adjectives
  • 2:51 Participial Phrase
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The present participle, also known as the -ing form, is a form of a verb that can be used as an adjective, as part of a participial phrase, or to show continuous action or perception.

Present Participles

What do these sentences have in common?

  • I was waiting for you for an hour.
  • I saw him running away from the crime scene.
  • Arriving at the restaurant, I realized I was twenty minutes late.

All of them use a present participle, otherwise known as the '-ing' form of a verb, or action word. As the informal name implies, this form combines a base verb with the ending -ing, as in 'waiting', 'amazing', 'running', and 'arriving'. This verb form often confuses writers and readers because it has several different functions in a sentence.

The present participle can be combined with other verbs to show continuous action or perception, but it can also be an adjective, either on its own or as part of a participial phrase.

Continuous Action

The easiest function of a present participle to wrap your head around is to show continuous action. In this form, the present participle combines with a helping verb, such as 'be' or 'was', to show continuous action. It can show continuous action in the past, present, future, and conditional tense. Here are some examples of the present participle showing continuous action:

  • He is writing in his office right now.
  • I was studying for my math test yesterday.
  • My band will be playing at the Rhythm Room tomorrow night.
  • We would be moving already, but our house has not sold yet.
  • John would have been leaving, but he got stuck in a long conversation with Maureen.


The present participle is also used in combination with what are called verbs of perception, which are verbs like 'watch', 'see', and 'hear'. In this form, the verb of perception is combined with an object and present participle to describe what the subject of the sentence saw or heard the object of the sentence doing. Let's take a look at some examples of the present participle showing perception:

  • I saw him mowing his lawn yesterday.
  • Jane heard Susan singing in the shower.
  • I can see you hiding from me.
  • I watched him cooking dinner.

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