Gerund & participle: "She stormed out, 'slamming' the door so hard that the mirror fell off the wall"



She stormed out, slamming the door so hard that the mirror fell off the wall.

As fa as I know, in Italian language slamming functions as a gerund there, but, very often—as it could be the case here—there is no parallelism between English and Italian when one compares gerund and participle forms.

So the question is: how can one figure out if in the above example "slamming" is a gerund or a participle?


Posted 2013-02-10T18:58:20.920


Why does it matter what label you affix to an -ing word? It does its job perfectly well no matter how sweet smelleth the rose by any other name. – tchrist – 2013-02-10T19:57:04.273

Yes @tchrist, but a rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely promise won't come true. – None – 2013-02-10T20:28:40.020

Untrue! Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus. – tchrist – 2013-02-10T20:29:46.793

@tchrist, may be; but don't forget Non sum propheta et non sum filius prophetae. – None – 2013-02-10T20:33:17.623

As side note, what in Italian is called gerundio, it is not called gerund in English. A gerund is a form derived from a verb that functions as a noun; that definition matches what in Italian is defined as participio ("forma nominale del verbo, usata generalmente con valore di aggettivo o di sostantivo"). – kiamlaluno – 2013-02-11T14:04:12.937



In English the grammatical term gerund is used only for an -ING form which is employed as a noun. When an -ING form is used as an adjective or as a component of progressive verb construction it is called a participle.

Consequently, the way to tell what you should call a specific instance of an -ING form is to determine what role it plays in the sentence.

In the case at hand, slamming ... is a clause which describes what the subject she did. It is not the subject or object of another verb, it is not marked with a determiner or any other adjective. It has to be a participle.

In the same context you might use slamming as a gerund this way:

She stormed out; slamming the door so hard that the mirror fell off the wall was her final comment on the discussion.

In this case, *slamming ... * is the subject of the verb was; slamming is a gerund.

It is usually pretty easy to figure out whether an -ING form is a participle or a gerund; but there is one tricky sort of construction. These require a subtler analysis.

running water
running shoes

In both of these, running is used to modify the following noun; but in the first, running is a participle, while in the second it is a gerund.

This may be easier to understand if I introduce a new technical term. The -ING form is traditionally called the present participle, to distinguish it from the past participle, the -ED form; but it is just as proper, and sometimes more useful to call it an active participle: a form which designates what the noun it modifies does, as opposed to the passive participle, which designates what is done to the noun it modifies.

So to discern whether an -ING form is a participle or a gerund you must ask yourself whether the action the form names is performed by the noun which it modifies.

  • In running water it is in fact the water which runs, so running is a participle
  • in running shoes, however, the shoes do not run; rather, they are used for running, just as tennis shoes are used for playing tennis or football shoes are used for playing soccer. In this case, running is a verb used as a noun—a gerund—which in turn is used attributively, as an adjective.

Isn’t English fun?!

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-02-10T18:58:20.920

Reputation: 176 469

1I’ve never understood why we don’t just call them all -ING forms and be done with it. – tchrist – 2013-02-10T20:35:15.713

2@tchrist Yah: -Ø, -S, -D, -D2, -ING about sums it up, except for BE (-ØØ), AM(-Ø1), WAS(-DS). – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-02-10T21:16:35.913