Can Gerunds Be Also Used As Adjectives?
The present participle (VERB+ing) is also used as an adjective.
In Third World countries, many houses do not have running water.
Here, the word “running” is a present participle doing the work of an adjective. It describes a certain kind of water (water that flows out of a pipe).
Here are some other examples:
The wind blew the falling leaves.
She comforted the crying child.
Have you read any interesting books lately?
Cafeteria food tastes disgusting.
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a present participle and a gerund, since gerunds can also be used as adjectives. For example, in the phrase “swimming pool” the word “swimming” is a gerund used as an adjective. We know this because “swimming pool” means “pool that is used for the activity of swimming.” It is not a present participle because the pool is not doing the action of swimming. To see the difference, compare these two sentences:
He dived into the swimming pool.
He waved to the swimming children.
In the first sentence, the pool is used for swimming, but in the second sentence the children are doing the action of swimming. In the first sentence, “swimming” is a gerund. In the second sentence it is a present participle.
Here are some other examples of gerunds used as adjectives:
sewing machine; frying pan; baking sheet; cutting board; carving knife; fishing rod; bathing suit; shooting range; drinking water; shaving cream; ironing board; running shoes; punching bag; mating season; watering can; feeding time; skating rink; living room; dressing gown; hiking boots; riding gear; baking soda; locking mechanism; shopping list; shopping cart; pecking order
The way to decide whether the VERB+ing word is a present participle or a gerund when it is used as an adjective is to see if you can reconstruct the phrase using “for,” like this:
swimming pool = pool for swimming (= gerund)
swimming child ≠ (not) child for swimming (= present participle)
drinking water = water for drinking (= gerund)
running water ≠ (not) water for running (= present participle)
running shoes = shoes for running (= gerund)
sewing machine = machine for sewing (= gerund)
interesting book ≠ (not) book for interesting (= present participle)
falling leaves ≠ (not) leaves for falling (= present participle)
In some cases, it is impossible to tell exactly whether the VERB+ing word is a gerund or a present participle. It could be either one depending on how you read the sentence. Consider this sentence:
Visiting relatives can be boring.
If you read the sentence to mean that the relatives who visit your house are boring, then “visiting” is a present participle. In this case, the subject of the sentence is “relatives” and “visiting” is an adjective describing the relatives.
If you read the sentence to mean that the activity of going to visit your relatives is boring, then “visiting” is a gerund. In this case, the subject of the sentence is “visiting” (as a gerund) and “relatives” is the object of the gerund.
By the way, in both cases, the word “boring” is a present participle used as an adjective. There is no doubt about that. [It is not part of the verb in the present progressive (or present continuous) tense.]
Present participles as adverbs
While both the present participle and the gerund can be used as an adjective, as described above, only the present participle can be used as an adverb. Consider the following sentence:
She ran out of the room crying.
Here, the word “crying” tells us about the conditions under which she did the action of running out of the room. Since it is telling us something about the verb, it is doing the work of an adverb. “Crying” in this sentence is considered a present participle, not a gerund, since it does not have any noun-like significance.
Here are some other examples:
The force of the blow sent him flying.
The wind came howling down the chimney.
Present participles can also form phrases when they do the work of an adverb. There are various types of present participial phrases, that is, they can perform various adverbial functions. I will not go into these functions in detail. Here are a few examples of a few different types:
The hurricane hit the West Coast, destroying thousands of homes.
Knowing that his wife would be upset, he did not tell her the bad news.
Taking a deep breath, she jumped into the icy river.
Shutting the door quietly behind him, he left the building.
In all of these cases, the present participial phrase (underlined) has some logical connection to the action in the verb and therefore does the work of an adverb.