She stormed out, slamming the door so hard that the mirror fell off the wall.

As fa as I know, in Italian language slamming functions as a gerund there, but, very often—as it could be the case here—there is no parallelism between English and Italian when one compares gerund and participle forms.

So the question is: how can one figure out if in the above example "slamming" is a gerund or a participle?

  • Why does it matter what label you affix to an -ing word? It does its job perfectly well no matter how sweet smelleth the rose by any other name.
    – tchrist
    Feb 10, 2013 at 19:57
  • Yes @tchrist, but a rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely promise won't come true.
    – user114
    Feb 10, 2013 at 20:28
  • Untrue! Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.
    – tchrist
    Feb 10, 2013 at 20:29
  • @tchrist, may be; but don't forget Non sum propheta et non sum filius prophetae.
    – user114
    Feb 10, 2013 at 20:33
  • As side note, what in Italian is called gerundio, it is not called gerund in English. A gerund is a form derived from a verb that functions as a noun; that definition matches what in Italian is defined as participio ("forma nominale del verbo, usata generalmente con valore di aggettivo o di sostantivo").
    – apaderno
    Feb 11, 2013 at 14:04

1 Answer 1


In English the grammatical term gerund is used only for an -ING form which is employed as a noun. When an -ING form is used as an adjective or as a component of progressive verb construction it is called a participle.

Consequently, the way to tell what you should call a specific instance of an -ING form is to determine what role it plays in the sentence.

In the case at hand, slamming ... is a clause which describes what the subject she did. It is not the subject or object of another verb, it is not marked with a determiner or any other adjective. It has to be a participle.

In the same context you might use slamming as a gerund this way:

She stormed out; slamming the door so hard that the mirror fell off the wall was her final comment on the discussion.

In this case, *slamming ... * is the subject of the verb was; slamming is a gerund.

It is usually pretty easy to figure out whether an -ING form is a participle or a gerund; but there is one tricky sort of construction. These require a subtler analysis.

running water
running shoes

In both of these, running is used to modify the following noun; but in the first, running is a participle, while in the second it is a gerund.

This may be easier to understand if I introduce a new technical term. The -ING form is traditionally called the present participle, to distinguish it from the past participle, the -ED form; but it is just as proper, and sometimes more useful to call it an active participle: a form which designates what the noun it modifies does, as opposed to the passive participle, which designates what is done to the noun it modifies.

So to discern whether an -ING form is a participle or a gerund you must ask yourself whether the action the form names is performed by the noun which it modifies.

  • In running water it is in fact the water which runs, so running is a participle
  • in running shoes, however, the shoes do not run; rather, they are used for running, just as tennis shoes are used for playing tennis or football shoes are used for playing soccer. In this case, running is a verb used as a noun—a gerund—which in turn is used attributively, as an adjective.

Isn’t English fun?!

  • 1
    I’ve never understood why we don’t just call them all -ING forms and be done with it.
    – tchrist
    Feb 10, 2013 at 20:35
  • 2
    @tchrist Yah: -Ø, -S, -D, -D2, -ING about sums it up, except for BE (-ØØ), AM(-Ø1), WAS(-DS). Feb 10, 2013 at 21:16

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