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When to Use the -ing Form in English

8 February 2021
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While it sounds like you can use the -ing form for anything, there are specific ways to use it in different situations. Find out how (and when) to use the -ing form of a word in English.

The -ing form of a word can be used like a noun, a verb or an adjective.


The noun form of -ing

When the -ing form is used as a noun, it modifies (or gives context to) a verb.

  • Nohelia loves dancing. (used as an object; verb + -ing form)
    [Note: If the sentence says "Nohelia loves dancing", then it is talking about dance as a concept, not as an action.)
  • She knows a lot about dancing. (used as an object; verb + -ing form)
  • Dancing is a good way to release stress. (used as a subject; -ing form + noun)

In all of these examples, dancing is a noun that the verb is referring to.


The adjective form of -ing

When it is used as an adjective, the -ing form describes another noun. (-ing form + noun)

  •  That movie had a surprising twist. (surprising describes the plot twist)
  •  He's a very exciting player to watch. (exciting describes the player)
  • x He's a very excite player to watch.
  •  I read an inspiring book. (inspiring describes the book)
  • x I read an inspire book.
    [Note: You could say "I read a book that inspired me."] 


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The verb form of -ing

When it is used as a verb, it signals that the tense is progressive, or continuous. It is used with the verbs "to be", or "to go". (verb + -ing form)

 am walking as fast as I can! (this sentence is spoken while walking)
x I am walk as fast as I can!

 Alain was sitting on the bench over there. (he sat for a length of time in the past)
[Note: If you write "Alain sat on the bench over there.", it would mean he had been on the bench at some point in his life, rather than during a specific situation/time.]

 She will be baking cookies tonight. (she will bake cookies for a length of time in the future)

x She will be bake cookies tonight.  [Note: "She will bake cookies tonight" is fine.]


Generally, when speaking about a physical activity that you will do at a certain time, use "to go" + the -ing form:

  •  I'm going running after class.
  • x I'm go run after class.
  •  Matteo goes shopping when he's stressed.
  • x Matteo go shop when he's stressed.
  •  David will go bowling with his cousins this weekend.


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