Lesson #127: ‘Grinding Through’ The Differences: Gerunds And Present Participles (Part 2)

In the previous post, we defined gerunds and participles in English grammar and discussed the differences between them. We also read two passages from Hard Times (1854) by Charles Dickens in order to find out which ones contain gerunds or participles.

Do you have confidence in your ability to identify gerunds from present participles when you see them? I hope that this short lesson is useful.

In the example where Josiah Bounderby wanted to learn how to tell the time from a dial plate, we read that he spent time studying the steeple clock. ‘Studying’ here is a noun; it is an activity that can be defined. So that makes it a gerund.

In the longer example where Mr. Gradgrind worries about his children’s reading habits, we hear that he was ‘pondering with his hands in his pockets’. So he was doing an activity, even if the activity was a meditative one. That shows us that ‘pondering’ is a verbal phrase, hence a present participle.

Similarly, when he wonders, ‘Whether Louisa or Thomas can have been reading anything?’, he is wondering whether his children have been doing something, specifically, doing the activity of reading. That makes ‘reading’ here a present participle, and it is all the more clear because it is preceded by ‘have been’, confirming that it is part of a verbal phrase. If he had said that his children ‘liked reading’, ‘reading’ would be a gerund because it is a noun, a direct object in fact.

I hope you have been able to consolidate your understanding of these grammatical distinctions through these examples from a popular Charles Dickens classic (whose themes include ‘education’, ‘reading’ and ‘study’ in fact)! 

Finally … Keep studying! Happy reading!

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2023)