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Hello,
I have a "textbook" understanding of participles and gerunds (participles function as adjectives; gerunds as nounds), but I find it difficult to put that knowledge in practice while writing or reviewing sentences. Are there any tricks or tests to determine quickly how an "-ing" word functions? In other words, how do you quickly zero in on what word(s) a particular "-ing" modifies?
Maybe you can walk me through a few examples:

There was never any stopping it.

He has the gall of a shoplifter returning an item for a refund.

He could never see a belt without hitting below it.

Wrestling with words gave me my moments of greatest meaning.

thanks in advance.
Comments  
I'm not the best to do this, not having benefitted from ESL training.

Nouns don't modify anything. They're mostly subjects and objects. If you have a sense for finding the subject of a sentence, or the object of a verb, that can be very useful in picking out the gerunds.

The last one seems easiest to me. We have a transitive action verb, "to give." Something does something to something. Moments are given to me. Who or what does the giving? (That is, what is the subject of the sentence?) Is it the words or the wrestling which gave me my moments? "With words" simply modifies "wrestling," so "wrestling" is the subject of the sentence. That's a noun function. "Wrestling" is a gerund.

This is actually what I would do to reach my conclusion. At this point in my life, it's instinctive, but I know that "wrestling" is the subject of the sentence, and that it's a present participle.

I know you're looking for simple rules, so I'd best leave the others to the experts, lest I use up all the site's memory.

- A.
I have noticed that my way of analyzing English differs to an extent from what is taught in the Anglo-Saxon countries. This is how I see your examples:
There was never any stopping it. Stopping is a gerund. It is used (without a verb immediately before it) after a form of to be (was), and that is typical of gerunds. Stopping also has an object (it) in the sentence, which is quite common for a gerund.

He has the gall of a shoplifter returning an item for a refund. Returning is a present participle. He has the gall of a shoplifter is a complete main clause. By that I mean it has a subject (He), a finite verb / a main verb (has) and an object (the gall of a shoplifter). It qualifies as a sentence on its own; it is in no way incomplete. Returning an item for a refund is not a sentence or a clause because it has no finite verb. Returning connects it to the preceding clause and the meaning is thus made clear.

In traditional European grammar returning is said to begin a clause equivalent, but I know that that term is not used a lot in the UK and the USA. In your sentence we could have a subject and a finite verb instead of the participle: He has the gall of a shoplifter who returns an item for a refund. Participles are very often used to replace all manner of subordinate clauses. Some examples:

When turning a corner, I saw a lorry hit a car. (= When I was turning a corner, I saw a lorry hit a car.)

Although living in Spain for years, he didn't learn Spanish very well. (= Although he lived in Spain for years, he didn't learn Spanish very well.)

That's a good car compared with mine. (= That is a good car if it is compared with mine.) Compared is a past participle, not a present participle because the clause is in the passive voice.

He could never see a belt without hitting below it. Hitting is a gerund. This is perhaps the easiest of your sentences for a layman to analyze because without is a preposition and all prepositions must be followed by a gerund. Examples:

He had an opportunity of visiting his uncle. We succeeded in reaching our destination in time. I'm accustomed to getting up early.

Wrestling with words gave me my moments of greatest meaning. Wrestling is a gerund. It is the subject of the clause/sentence. Gave is the finite verb. A present participle cannot act as the subject of a clause. Similar examples:

Swimming is great fun! Reading detective stories was one of his hobbies. Writing letters isn't what I like.

Cheers, CB
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Hey CB,
You seem to be good at this so do you think you can write a sentence that begins with a participle?
AnonymousHey CB,
You seem to be good at this so do you think you can write a sentence that begins with a participle?

Thank you for the compliment. Emotion: smile No problem:
Present participle: Travelling/Traveling salesmen are common in this part of the country.

Past participle: Extinguished cigarettes/cigarets should be disposed of properly.
CB
CB, you said "Participles are very often used to replace all manner of subordinate clauses. "
< This is also very often said in many Taiwanese/ Chinese/Japanese English Grammar Books>
Can you rewrite the origianl sentence "He has the gall of a shoplifter returning an item for a refund."
using "a subordinate clause" instead of "a partiiciple phrase"-- returning as iten for a refund?
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AnonymousCan you rewrite the origianl sentence "He has the gall of a shoplifter returning an item for a refund."
using "a subordinate clause" instead of "a partiiciple phrase"-- returning as iten for a refund?

I have already done that. Read my first post.
CB
Yes, CB, I saw your rewritten sentence "He has the gall of a shoplifter who returns an item for a refund. "
But, in that sentence, "who returns an item for a refund " is not a subordinate clause but a relative clause.
And the relative clause modifies "shoplifter." In your other examples, you did use subordinate clauses, such as in:
"When turning a corner, I saw a lorry hit a car. (= When I was turning a corner, I saw a lorry hit a car.)
Although living in Spain for years, he didn't learn Spanish very well. (= Although he lived in Spain for years, he didn't learn Spanish very well.)
That's a good car compared with mine. (= That is a good car if it is compared with mine.) ."

So here comes my question, in seeing a participle phrase, how can one determine if the participle phrase is from a subordinate clause or a relative clause?
Could you tell us your way of identifying the two of them?

Thank you.
AnonymousYes, CB, I saw your rewritten sentence "He has the gall of a shoplifter who returns an item for a refund. "
But, in that sentence, "who returns an item for a refund " is not a subordinate clause but a relative clause.
All relative clauses are subordinate clauses.
CB
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