So I want to know whether the "doing sports" is a participle or a gerund. I have looked into both and both seem possible to me although I think a gerund would make more sense with the addition of "with" for example but maybe you can tell me why this isnt necessary. I normally can dintiniguish the 2 quite well the constructions with "spend" and "waste", however, I can not give an answer as to which one it is. Another one not containing either of the two : "While I could get by not knowing what it is I want to know because it helps me understand the language better." So is this a participle? If I added "with" in both these 2 sentences would they become gerunds? ( "with doing sports" "with not knowing what it is")

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    "Doing sports" is a subordinate non-finite clause in which "doing" is a verb participle. It can only be a verb, since it has a direct object "sports". Nouns never take direct objects. And it has nothing to with adjectives either!
    – BillJ
    Oct 24, 2016 at 12:51

1 Answer 1


Some writers on grammar don't accept that there is such a distinction, and prefer to say that the "-ing" participle can be used in different ways.

But in traditional terms, I think it has to be a participle, because that slot in the sentence can only be filled by adjective-like phrases:

I spend a lot of time asleep.

I spend a lot of time drunk.

and not by noun-like phrases:

*I spend a lot of time history.

*I spend a lot of time recreation.

(But on the other hand "I spend a lot of time on history" is fine).

Side note, not directly relevant to your question: in British English "I spend a lot of time doing sport" would be more natural. You could say "sports", but that would be emphasising that you did several different sports. I believe that in American English, "sports" is the normal form for "sport in general".

  • Thanks it was helpful now I just found out that prepositions always take gerunds, so the ing form in phrases like "without knowing" would have to be one. Now I always had trouble translating the english ing form into my native language as it doesnt exist. Why dont we need an articile? "Without the knowing" would make sense to me and why cant one say "without to know". Also as youre a native if you see the following : "Walking is exhausting" "Walking alone, I became scared once it got dark." Is walking the same word or do they only look the same? One is a gerund the other one a participle. Oct 24, 2016 at 11:15
  • So I know my issues with this are probably very hard to comprehend but so far I have only used the constructions and although used correctly I could never fully unserstood them. If this makes no sense at all can you perhaps tell me whether "without knowing" is closer to the hypothetical "without the knowing" or "without to know." Oct 24, 2016 at 11:21
  • If you study the history of the language, you will find that the "-ing" form goes back to two different forms in Old English: "-ing" which was a verbal noun (like German "-ung") and "-and" or "-end", which was a verbal adjective, or participle. All you need to know in modern English is that "-ing" forms can in generally be used in a noun-like and an adjective-like way: I don't think there is much value in giving names to the two different uses. In their noun-like use ("gerund", if you insist) they are a kind of abstract, and most abstracts do not usually take an article (though they can).
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 24, 2016 at 11:23
  • I can't answer your question about "without the knowing" and "without to know": since neither of those phrases exist in English, I can't tell what difference you think there would be in their meaning.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 24, 2016 at 11:28
  • In "walking is exhausting", "Walking" is the subject of the sentence, so it must be functioning as a noun-phrase, and be noun-like: if you insist on the label, it must be a gerund. In "Walking alone, I ... ", It is not functioning as a noun, but qualifying "I" (or rather, part of a phrase qualifying "I") so it is a participle.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 24, 2016 at 11:30

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