Understanding -ing and -ed Phrases in English

English grammar can sometimes seem easy to learn, with its clear rules and logical explanations. At other times, there seem to be endless exceptions; along with prepositions and using gerunds, -ing and -ed phrases are among the these. However, if one takes the time to study these phrases, their patterns do become clearer. This post explores the structures, functions and usage of -ing and -ed phrases in English grammar.

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Understanding -ing phrases


The formation of -ing phrases, also known as present participles, occurs by adding -ing to the base form of a verb. For example, play becomes playing, run becomes running, and sing becomes singing.


-ing phrases are versatile and serve multiple functions in a sentence. They can function as gerunds (nouns), participles (adjectives), or parts of continuous verb forms.

As gerunds (Nouns)

In this function, -ing phrases function as nouns, performing the role of subjects, objects or complements in a sentence.

  • Running is my favourite exercise. (Subject)
  • She enjoys swimming. (Object)
  • His passion is dancing. (Complement)

 As participles (Adjectives)

Functioning as participles, which are adjectives or adjective phrases, -ing phrases modify nouns, providing additional information about them.

  • The running water sounded soothing. (Modifying water)
  • I saw a smiling child in the park. (Modifying child)
  • The film was boring. (Modifying film)

 As parts of continuous verb forms

As parts of continuous verb forms, -ing phrases combine with forms of the verb ‘to be’ to create continuous verb tenses, indicating ongoing actions or states.

  • She is studying for her exams. (Present continuous)
  • hey were playing soccer when it started raining. (Past continuous)
  • We will be waiting for you at the airport. (Future continuous)

understanding with a lightening bolt

Understanding -ed phrases


-ed phrases, also known as past participles, are formed in numerous ways depending on the verb. Regular verbs typically add -ed to the base form, while irregular verbs have their own unique past participle forms. For , walk becomes walked (regular), and go becomes gone (irregular).


Like -ing phrases, -ed phrases have multiple functions in a sentence. They can function as past participles (adjectives), parts of passive verb forms, or parts of perfect verb tenses.

As past participles (Adjectives)

-ed phrases modify nouns, describing qualities or states attributed to them.

  • The broken window needs to be fixed. (Modifying window)
  • I was impressed by his painted artwork. (Modifying artwork)
  • The book was written by a renowned author. (Modifying author)

As parts of passive verb forms

-ed phrases combine with forms of the verb to be to create passive voice constructions, emphasizing the action’s recipient rather than the doer.

  • The letter was sent yesterday. (Simple passive)
  • The cake has been baked by my sister. (Present perfect passive)
  • The house will be cleaned before the guests arrive. (Future passive)

As parts of perfect verb tenses

-ed phrases combine with forms of the verb to have to create perfect verb tenses, indicating actions that were completed before a certain point in time.

  • She has finished her homework. (Present perfect)
  • They had already eaten dinner when I arrived. (Past perfect)
  • We will have reached our destination by midnight. (Future perfect)

Key differences between -ing and -ed phrases

While -ing and -ed phrases share some similarities in their functions, they also exhibit distinct characteristics:

  • Temporal aspect: -ing phrases typically denote ongoing or continuous actions, while -ed phrases often denote completed actions or states.
  • Verb forms: -ing phrases are derived from the present participle form of verbs, while -ed phrases are derived from the past participle form.
  • Passive voice usage: -ed phrases are commonly used in passive voice constructions, while -ing phrases are less frequently used in passive voice.
  • Continuous verb tenses: -ing phrases are essential components of continuous verb tenses, while -ed phrases are not used in continuous forms.


Common errors to avoid

Confusing gerunds with infinitives

Learners often confuse gerunds (verb forms ending in -ing used as nouns) with infinitives (base form of a verb preceded by to). For , I enjoy to sing should be corrected to I enjoy singing.

Misusing verb tenses

Misuse of -ing and -ed phrases can lead to errors in verb tense consistency. It is essential to use the appropriate form based on the intended meaning and context of the sentence.

Forgetting passive voice constructions

In passive voice constructions, it is crucial to use -ed phrases correctly to convey the intended emphasis on the action’s recipient.

dropped ice cream

Examples of sentence forms that can confuse students

The continuous tense is used when tow events occur at the same time, or when one shorter event occurs while another loner event is taking place. For example:

  • The man ran out of the house and he was shouting abuse at the thieves.
  • While I was cooking, I burnt my arm.
  • I went to bed because I was feeling exhausted.
  • Be careful when you are crossing the road.
  • I arrived home very depressed because I had failed my driving test.

The above examples can cause the occurrence of confusing -ing phrases. The reason is because some words have been technically omitted from the sentence:

  • The man ran out of the house shouting.
  • I burnt my arm cooking.
  • Feeling exhausted, I went to bed.
  • Be careful crossing the road.
  • Having failed my driving test, I arrived home very depressed.


In conclusion, while English grammar can sometimes present challenges with its numerous exceptions, a focused study of -ing and -ed phrases reveals their distinct patterns. -ing phrases, or present participles, can act as gerunds, adjectives, or parts of continuous verb forms, indicating ongoing actions or states. Conversely, -ed phrases, or past participles, modify nouns, form passive constructions, and create perfect verb tenses to denote completed actions.

Understanding the key differences between these phrases, such as their temporal aspects and roles in verb forms, helps one master their use. By avoiding common errors like confusing gerunds with infinitives, misusing verb tenses and incorrectly constructing passive voice sentences, English language learners can enhance their grammatical accuracy.

If you have any questions, please do enter them below.


Börjars, Kersti, and others. Introducing English Grammar, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2010)

Burton-Roberts, Noel. Analysing Sentences: An Introduction to English Syntax, 4th edn (Routledge, 2016)

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 3rd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Gwynne, N. M. Gwynne’s Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English (Ebury Press/Random House, 2013)

Hewings, Martin, and others. Cambridge English Grammar and Vocabulary for Advanced (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Huddleston, Rodney, and others. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Parrott, Martin. Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Pinker, Steven. Words and Rules (W&N/ Science Masters, 2001)

Quirk, Randolph, and others. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, reprint edn (Pearson, 2011)

New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2005)


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