What are the differences between gerund and present participle?

Is the following a case of present participle? People joining the association will have to pay.

  • In traditional grammar, gerunds and present participles are both verbs, the former occurring where nouns are typically found, the latter where adjectives are typically found. In your example, "joining" would be called a present participle, because it heads a phrase that is modifying the noun "people". See my comments below to James K.
    – BillJ
    Mar 14, 2021 at 13:20

1 Answer 1


A gerund functions as a noun, and so as the subject or object in a clause or phrase. A participle functions as an adjective or adverb, and modify a noun or phrase.

Many grammarians find the distinction between participles and gerunds to be unnecessary and say that they are not really different in modern English. You can follow these experts and say "it is an -ing word" and leave it at that.

Your sentence is an example. You could say that there is a gerund acting as a subject "People joining the association", or you could say that the participle phrase "joining the association" modifies the noun "People".

If you look at the meaning of the verb "pay" it has to apply to "people" and not "joining". So if you have to choose, choose participle.

  • 1
    In trad grammar, gerunds and present participles are verbs, just as gerund-participles are, the latter term being the modern one for both ing forms. Those that are genuine nouns are gerundial nouns, or just nouns, while those that are genuine adjectives are participial adjectives, or just adjectives. Compare "He was expelled for killing the birds" (verb) vs "He had witnessed the killing of the birds" (noun). And "They are entertaining the neighbours this evening" (verb) vs "The show was very entertaining" (adjective)
    – BillJ
    Mar 14, 2021 at 12:53
  • 1
    "People joining the association" is not a clause but an NP with "people" as head and the gerund-participial clause "joining the association" modifying the head. Trad grammar thus calls "joining" a present participle because it is functionally similar to an adjective. Compare "Moderately affluent people will have to pay", where we can see that "joining" and "affluent" are functionally similar in that each expression is modifying a noun.
    – BillJ
    Mar 14, 2021 at 13:15

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