a sound like rats scrabbling on the other side of the wall

'scrabbling' is a present participle or gerund?

In the aspects of structural grammar, both forms are correct.

My question arises from the fact that possesive case of gerund allows also objective case of gerund in colloquial English": 'of his arriving' or 'of him arriving'.

  • 3
    It's probably worth noting that many modern grammars don't distinguish between "gerund" and "participle" in modern English. In that analysis, this is a "gerund-participle" or "-ing form" of the verb. Attempts to distinguish between them are therefore pointless.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 19:41
  • @JamesK I respect your comment and still want to hear your opinion: gerund or present participle.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 19:32
  • My opinion is that this is the -ing form of a verb, it is a gerund-participle (I'll write an answer)
    – James K
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


Here, the word "scrabbling" is a present participle.

It describes an action happening at that moment, and it cannot be replaced with a noun or pronoun. There is no possessive here. You can understand it as a reduced relative clause:

... a sound like rats (that were) scrabbling on the other side of the wall

If the word "rats" were in the possessive form "rats' scrabbling", then "scrabbling" would be a gerund. The phrase would have a different structure and mean something like:

... a sound like the scrabbling of rats

  • Thx4answer. If we don't personify the 'rats', not 'who were' but 'that are or that were'. But still l I'd like to ask why we can't regard the scrabbling as a gerund like 'of him arriving'.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 17:06
  • You know, 'a sound' goes well rather with 'scrabbling' than 'rats': a scrabbling sound or as your last example: the "scrabbling" of rats
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 17:12

In most modern treatments of English grammar, no distinction is made between "participles" and "gerunds".

In some other languages (Old English as spoken before 1200, Latin) there are clear distinctions in form. For example audiens is a Latin present participle and audiendum is a gerund. This is pretty clear (the Latin word means "hearing")

In Modern English there is only one form "hearing" and asking "is it like a noun or like an adjective" only leads to confusion and mistakes. After all nouns can qualify other nouns (attributive nouns) and adjectives can be the complement in a sentence. The proper analysis is that a word like "hearing" is an "-ing form of a verb" or a "gerund-participle"

And that is proper analysis here. The word "scrabbling" is the "-ing form of the verb scrabble"; it is a "gerund-participle".

  • In "'Answering' this question is hard.", 'answering' is a gerund.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 5:43
  • In "Answering this question is hard", "answering" It is the "-ing form of the verb "answer" it is a gerund-participle that heads a clause "Answering this question" That clause is the subject of the sentence.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 10:53
  • "Playing a soccer game" gerund. "a boy playing a soccer game' present participle. I am sure of this.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 18:12
  • Both are the -ing form of the verb play, and both head gerund-participle clauses. I can play this game forever if you want. There is no way of telling them apart. I can easily put "a boy playing a soccer game" into a context in which you will say it is a "gerund".
    – James K
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 18:28
  • For example "Peter saw a boy playing a soccer game". Now by your logic "a boy playing a soccer game" is the direct object of "saw", and direct objects are like nouns, so "a boy playing a soccer game" is obviously a gerund... It is exactly this kind of confusion that occurs when you pretend that there is any difference between "playing" and "playing".
    – James K
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 18:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .