Is 'working' a gerund in the following sentences?

My mobile was not working

He is working hard to pass the examination

  • 3
    Neither. The one in He is working ... is a verb; the one in My mobile wasn't working can be think of as a verb (it's similar to It works) or an adjective (It's working, so we can use it.) A gerund is the -ing form of a verb that functions as a noun. One good test to check if it's a gerund is to add a possessive adjective (my, your, our, their, etc.) in front of it. For example, His running is strong makes sense, so this running is a gerund. *He is my working hard to pass the examination doesn't make sense (so, not a gerund). Mar 31, 2015 at 19:35
  • First of all in sentence 1 you have Past continuous (was not working) and in 2 Present continuous. Whether "working" is a gerund or a participle is debatable. The traditional view of grammars is participle.
    – rogermue
    May 31, 2015 at 10:18

3 Answers 3


When the verb has the force of a noun it is called gerund.

In both of the sentences 'working' is used as a verb (in continuous tense).


  1. a. Working makes me tired. - Gerund

    b. He is working in the field. - verb

  2. a. Working hard for the examination fetched him good grades. - Gerund

    b. He is working hard for the examination. - verb

In the above sentences (a) 'working' has the force of a noun and it functions as a noun, so it is gerund. While in the sentences (b) 'working' is used as a verb.


"was not working" is past tense continuous/progressive form. It consists of a form of to be and a verb form with the ending -ing. Today grammars say it is a present participle, but if you said it is a gerund (without preposition) it would be just as well.

You can say "I'm working" is "am + present participle" or it is "am + (in the act of) working" or "am (at/on) working". Then it would be a gerund.

Sometimes I write: to be + gp (gerund or participle, whatever you like).


-ing words are used to form progressive or continuous constructions if paired with a form of to be:

was walking, am moving, were going, had been flying

Adverbs can come between to be and the -ing word, like not, maybe, now, etc.

Does this mean the -ing word is technically a gerund? After all, you can replace the walking in I was walking, for example, with any noun, e.g. I am a cat.

However, to be is in a category of verbs called linking or copular verbs. This means the X in I am X (or any other form of to be) can not only be a noun but also a modifier. For example, you can say I am hot.

When a verb has the "force" of an modifier, it's a participle. Then the argument could be made that the -ing word is modifying a verb so it's an adverb.

So it's not a simple question to say what part of speech the walking is in I am walking. The model of considering am walking as a two-word verb is useful, but not sure how technically valid it really is from a hardcore analyticaL standpoint. There's probably a couple pages deep in the CGEL that explain this. If I remember and ever dig it up I'll update.

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