I know "busy" can be used with the structure: "be busy doing". For example: I'm busy learning English.

Now, I'm wondering whether "learning English" in this sentence is a gerund phrase or a participle phrase? And what function (adjective/adverb) does this phrase have in the sentence?

  • 2
    No, there's no gerund in I'm busy learning English - where busy is just an adjective introduced into the simple statement I'm learning English within which learning is a continuous verb form. Gerunds look the same, but we call them gerunds when they function as nouns (as for example, Learning English is hard, which is the same basic structure as Diamond is hard). – FumbleFingers Dec 10 '16 at 17:20
  • Traditional grammar would call the verb "learning" a present participle in your example, but nowadays it's often called simply a gerund-participle. It heads the gerund-participial clause "learning English", which functions as a depictive adjunct giving descriptive information about the subject "I". Notice how the clause can be dropped with no loss of grammaticality - hence 'adjunct'. It is interpreted with progressive aspectuality (cf. I am learning English). – BillJ Dec 10 '16 at 19:06

Nice question. You actually ask if the auxiliary verb (am) refers to the word "busy" or to the word "learning". I think that you asked this question because you assume that if it refers to the word "busy" then the word "learning" is a gerund, and if it refers to the word "learning" then the word learning is a verb in present participle tense.

I guess that it's not simple to answer on it since not any case in English has rule, but personally I believe it depends on the context and meaning of the phrase. That says, that if you say your phrase in following meaning:

I am busy learning English. = I am busy in nowadays because I have a lot of learning.

then in this meaning the word "learning" is gerund, since it functions the same as if was written: "I'm busy in learning English".

But if you say your phrase in this meaning:

I am busy learning English. = I am busy right now because I'm learning English.

Then, it's as if was written "I'm busy now because I'm learning English" since there is a using of pronoun + auxiliary verb in this sentence (I am...), near to the word which ends with -ing ending, therefore it is a verb that functions as present participle.

It cannot be a gerund, since the definition of gerund is "form of a verb which acts as a noun". In your case it does not acts as a noun because of the presence of the pronoun (I) with the auxiliary verb (am) right before the word ends with -ing.

If you wrote "Learning English makes me busy", or "Learning English is easy" then the word "learning" would be a gerund in both of these sentences because they are themselves the 'instead of' the pronoun, the subject of the sentence rather than additional to it.

BTW, I found similar question in this forum and you can see another opinions.

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