QUESTION: What are all the ‘-ing’ words in the following sentence? He doesn’t like to waste time sitting around talking and drinking coffee.
ANSWER: I know there are some who don’t like using the term “gerund,” but I’m not part of that camp. In my mind, it’s easier to understand and teach English grammar when we distinguish gerunds from present participles. They both are formed by adding -ing to the base form of a verb, but that’s where their similarities end.*
Gerunds behave like nouns. They can be used as single words or in phrases. Gerunds and gerund phrases can be subjects and objects. They can also be appositives and complements. Let me offer examples to illustrate.
- Explaining grammar to students requires both logic and creativity. [gerund = subject]
- I enjoy explaining grammar to students and discussing grammar with colleagues. [gerund = direct object; there are 2 objects of “enjoy”]
- There’s much I love about teaching. [gerund = indirect object]
- The last topic, teaching advanced grammar, caused anxiety for more than one trainee. [gerund = appositive (a reduced adjective clause)]
- The challenge most find difficult to overcome is teaching mixed levels. [gerund = subject complement; “the challenge” = “teaching”]
- I had some difficulty teaching mixed levels. [gerund = complement; “teaching mixed levels” helps to describe and limit “difficulty”]
Do you agree with all six examples? I think most student books limit the presentation of gerunds to their roles as subjects and objects, but Jay Maurer in Focus on Grammar 5: An Integrated Skills Approach (2006) does address gerunds as complements. His discussion in Unit 15 would add a seventh example to my list: “He spends time reading” (260). Maurer identifies “reading” as an object complement, that is, a complement in a noun phrase. “Reading” is a complement to “time.” He offers another example with a negative gerund: “She found him not working” (260). We can now identify “sitting” in our original statement as an object complement: (He doesn’t like to waste time sitting around talking and drinking coffee.)
All right. So let’s define present participles. In my understanding, they differ from gerunds in that they cannot behave like nouns. Present participles either function as verbs or adjectives. We see the present participle in progressive tenses and reduced adverb clauses. We also see present participles as modifiers. My examples:
- I am trying my best to explain my view on this grammar topic. [present participle as part of the present progressive]
- When researching grammar topics, I often turn to gurus like Azar, Biber, Greenbaum, and Quirk. [present participle with an active meaning, reduced from “When I research”]
- Grammar is not an interesting subject for anyone else in my family. [present participle as an adjective; it modifies “subject”]
Returning to the original statement, He doesn’t like to waste time sitting around talking and drinking coffee, I’d identify “talking and drinking” as present participles in an adverb phrase of time. There’s no subordinating conjunction, but the time relationship is clear. He can waste time and sit around while talking and drinking coffee. All the actions can be in progress at the same time.
Summary of answer: He doesn’t like + (what?) > The infinitive “to waste” is the object. “Time” is the object in the infinitive clause [to waste + (what?)]. “Sitting around” is the complement of “time.” “Talking and drinking coffee” is an adverbial phrase that expresses the idea “while.”
*I’ll end this discussion here, but I’m sure we can always continue it another time, especially since Biber, Conrad, et al could challenge me by asking me to identify the -ing word in the following example, which they give in Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (2007): “There’s no denying it” (67).