Verbs that end in -ing, or V+ing verbs, can never be the stand-alone, main verb in a sentence. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have their uses, though. In fact, they’re so incredibly versatile that they can take almost any position in a sentence.
They can act like verbs.
The most obvious role they can fill is to be a part of a verb phrase. V+ing verbs pair with “to be” verbs in order to create continuous tenses. Continuous tenses refer to an action that was ongoing at a particular moment. Because V+ing verbs don’t have any tense on their own, they can be part of past, present, or future tenses. For example, you could say:
I was writing.
I am writing.
I will be writing.
They can act like adjectives.
V+ing verbs can also be used as adjectives. They can precede a noun, and they help identify which noun you’re referring to. The V+ing verb describes an action that the noun is taking right at that moment. For example, the phrase “identifying characteristics” refers to the characteristics that, at that moment, identify whatever it is you’re talking about.
(When V+ing verbs are used as adjectives or as part of continuous verb phrases, they’re officially known as participles. V3 verbs, verbs such as “taken” and “gone,” can also be adjectives. They’re known as past participles.)
They can act like nouns.
Uniquely, V+ing verbs can be used as nouns. (As a noun, they’re known as gerunds.) When used as a noun, a V+ing verb stands alone. It doesn’t precede a noun because it, itself, is a noun. You can see the difference here:
- The identifying characteristics include…
- Identifying the problem allows organizations to…
When a V+ing verb is the subject of a sentence, as in example 2, treat it as singular.
A V+ing verb can also be the object of a preposition, as in, “It’s useful for identifying nouns.” When it’s the object of a preposition, confusingly, the V+ing verb itself can also take an object, if the verb is allowed to do so. In the previous example, “identifying” is the object of the preposition “for,” and “nouns” is the object of the transitive verb “identify.”
It’s a little incredible that a verb is allowed to fulfill so many different roles in a sentence: as a verb, of course, but also as an adjective or noun. Using V+ing verbs in different positions in your sentence opens up new options for words, allowing you to choose the just-right word and to add variety to your sentences. That makes them incredibly useful when you’re writing your dissertation, and understanding the rules behind them is essential when you’re proofreading your own drafts.