Grammar

Common Mistakes With -ing Verbs

Verbs that end in -ing can be tricky for English language learners and even for native speakers. Sometimes the -ing verb is partnered with a form of “to be” to form the continuous (also known as the progressive) tense. Other times, the -ing verb is a gerund, which means it functions as a noun in the sentence where it is used.

In this article, we will cover some typical mistakes with gerunds and continuous tense verbs. We will also provide examples of how to fix these mistakes and write the sentences correctly.

Mistake #1: Forgetting to include a form of “to be” with a continuous tense -ing verb

The children playing ball in the park.

The above sentence needs a simple present or past form of the verb “to be” in order to form a full, complete sentence. (If you need a review of the different forms of “to be”, click here.)

Here are two correct versions of the sentence:

The children are playing ball in the park. (This indicates a current ongoing action.)

The children were playing ball in the park. (This indicates an ongoing action that took place in the past.)

Mistake #2: Using the present continuous tense when you should use the simple present

I am believing that the conference is at the end of the month.

The verb “to believe” is a non-action (or stative) verb. Rather than telling us about a specific action, a non-action verbs tells us about the subject’s feelings, opinions, senses, and state of being. Although there are exceptions, non-action verbs are typically not used in the continuous tense.

To correct our example sentence, we would change the continuous tense to the simple present tense:

I believe that the conference is at the end of the month.

Similarly, writers mistakenly use the past continuous form of a non-action verb when they should use the simple past. Let’s look at another example using “to believe”:

I was believing in fairies when I was a child. (This is incorrect.)

I believed in fairies when I was a child. (This is correct.)

Mistake #3: Using the infinitive form of a verb instead of a gerund

I avoid to walk past that house with the mean dog. (Incorrect)

I avoid walking past that house with the mean dog. (Correct)

Since a gerund functions as a noun in a sentence, that means there needs to be another verb in that same sentence that is, well, acting like a typical verb. This is what the verb “to avoid” is doing in the two example sentences in this section. Meanwhile, “walking” is a gerund because it functions as the object of “avoid”. Thus, we use the gerund instead of “to walk”.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to use a possessive adjective before certain gerunds

Remember, a gerund functions as a noun in a sentence. Since some nouns are words for things—and since some things belong to people or are connected to people—there are instances where we need to include a possessive adjective before a gerund. (If you need a refresher on what a possessive adjective is, click here.)

I appreciate him cooking. (This isn’t a major mistake, and it’s okay for casual speech or informal writing. However, it would not sound right in a formal context.)

I appreciate his cooking. (This is much better for formal writing as the use of “your” more clearly marks “cooking” as a gerund. In this sentence “cooking” is a thing that is connected to someone, hence the use of the possessive adjective “his”.)

Mistake #5: Not using a gerund after a preposition

Bonnie is interested in study biology.

As we detailed in the section about possessive adjectives, gerunds function as nouns in a sentence and some nouns are words for things. In the above sentence, Bonnie is interested in an academic field, which is a thing. Therefore, we need to tack “-ing” onto the end of “study” and transform it into a gerund:

Bonnie is interested in studying biology.

Conclusion

The examples in this article illustrate just some of the common mistakes that writers make when they are using -ing verbs. As you are probably well aware, the English language is rife with exceptions to the rules and various other quirks. So click the blue box below if you would like one of our TextRanch editors to take a look at your writing (note that “your writing” is another example of a gerund) and give you some feedback.

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