I stood there, watching the kids playing basketball.

What kind of grammar is this, and is it grammatically correct to use the verb "watching" after I use "stood"?


Yes, this is grammatically correct. It is called the past progressive tense

Maybe you are familiar with a sentence such as:

I was watching...

But in your case, instead of "to be" working in the past tense, you have "to stand" providing the same function, but added detail.

  • No. watching the kids playing basketball is a clause in the present progressive. Despite that name, it is actually has no tense on its own. It gets it from the verb of the clause it is modifying. But it is not the past progressive. – green_ideas May 26 '17 at 15:29

The word watching is called a present participle. A participle is actually an adjective: it's a form of a verb that indicates that it's acting as an adjective. In this sentence, it modifies the subject, I.

The word playing in the same sentence is also a present participle. It modifies kids.

The verb in this sentence is stood. You could reword the sentence like this:

I, watching the kids playing basketball, stood there.

This sentence has the same grammar and the same meaning as your original sentence. (The emphasis is different, though.) Both mean that while "I" stood there, I watched the kids playing basketball: the two actions happened at the same time. A little confusingly, watching and playing are called present participles even though, in this sentence, they describe action in the past. The time denoted by a present participle is the time denoted by the actual verb.

What might have you confused is that English verbs sometimes combine with a second verb, where the second verb is an infinitive or a gerund—and the gerund also ends in -ing. Consequently the gerund and the present participle have the exact same form. For example, in "I imagined flying a plane," the word flying is a gerund. In that sentence, it functions as a noun: it's the object of imagined.

One of the most confusing parts of English for a non-native speaker to learn is the way one verb takes a second verb as an object or complement, because there's no common rule for whether the complement should be an infinitive or a gerund. For example, "I imagined to fly a plane" is not grammatical. Each verb has its own customs for whether its complement is an infinitive with to, a gerund, or an infinitive without to. For example, when listen takes a verb as an object, it needs the infinitive with to, not the gerund or the bare infinitive : "I listened to singing for two hours" is grammatical, but "I listened singing for two hours" is not grammatical. But made requires the bare infinitive: "I made him sing for two hours." A helpful list of these verbs is in this answer.

However, none of that complexity occurs in your sentence. In that sentence, watching is not an object or complement of stood. It's just a present participle, modifying I.

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