Let’s Clear Up Some [Verb]ing Confusion on the GMAT

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - Let's Clear Up Some [Verb]ing Confusion on the GMAT by Reed Arnold

Today’s post will be short and sweet, but it will be useful. It has come to my attention lately that words ending with ‘ing’ can be a point of confusion for students. What are these [verb]ing words? How do they [verb]ing work? Why the [verb] do I need to understand this [female relative] [verb]ing subject for the GMAT?

Let’s get something out in the open immediately: I don’t like grammar terms. I’m not a grammar…tician, a grammatician… a grammarphile… I don’t even know the word. I’m not “someone who knows a lot of rules of grammar.” That might surprise you, since I do teach the GMAT, and since grammar is part of the test.

But the fact is, you don’t need to know any grammatical terms or labels to do well on GMAT Sentence Correction. And I find that sometimes students get far too bogged down in the labels and worry, “Oh wait, should this be a present participle used in the present-perfect-progressive tense? Or is it a gerund? Or is it an adverbial modifier?”

Blech. Who cares what it’s called? What matters is what it’s doing.

And [verb]ing words do four things in sentences. These are those [verb]ing four things:

1) They Are Part of a Verb When They Have Help

The alligator was swimming in the sewers of New York City.

When I leave for work in the morning, you will be sleeping.

They are firing Reed for his allusion to a very offensive term in his blog post.

Repeat after me: “An —ing word is not a verb, and it never has a tense.”

[Verb]ing words look like verbs, because they are derived from verbs. But they are not actions on their own. I can’t say “They going to the store” on the GMAT.

In order for an —ing word to be a verb, it must be helped by a ‘to be’ word: is, was, will be, have been, were, etc.

Now, an official grammatician (I looked it up, that’s the word) might say that the —ing word is a present participle and that the verb is the ‘is’ or ‘was’ or ‘will be’ part of the sentence. Probably, technically true. But for GMAT ease, just call the whole thing the verb.

The verb in the sentence “We are reading an incredibly dull blog post,” is ‘are reading.’

The verb in “Seriously, Reed is losing his job” is ‘is losing.’

2) They Are a Noun

Swimming is a good form of exercise for people with joint pain.

I always did enjoy sleeping late into the morning on weekends.

Though she has written and will write other books, J.K. Rowling will always be remembered for creating the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

An —ing word that is used as a noun is technically called a ‘gerund,’ but again, this won’t win you any GMAT points to know the term.

These are not super commonly tested on the GMAT. If they are, it’s usually a switch between the gerund or the verb form:

“She ran around the lake and was tired afterward.”
“She was tired after running around the lake.”

Or occasionally, between the —ing word and a word more clearly thought of as a noun:

“The business’s creating a loyalty program has been mostly criticized by its customers.”
“The business’s creation of a loyalty program has been mostly criticized by its customers.”

3) They Are Describing a Noun

An alligator swimming towards you is about the scariest thing you can see in a swamp.

The sleeping child did not wake up during the party.

When the —ing word is doing this, make sure it is as close to the noun as possible. One of the most common splits you’ll see with this is a ‘[verb]ing’ vs. ‘that [verbs]’ split.

Some economists believe that countries that run a large trade deficit are actually more prosperous than those that do not.

Some economists believe that countries running a large trade deficit are actually more prosperous than countries with a trade surplus.

Generally, this is a false split, or if not, it’s a super subtle difference and you’re better off finding another split to use.

4) They Are Describing a Subject/Verb Clause

The alligator stalked its prey, swimming slowly up to the shoreline so as not to be detected.

After he was fired, Reed left the building, carrying a box of his personal belongings.

You might see this called an ‘adverbial modifier.’

Whenever you see a structure like ‘comma, [verb]ing,’ notice how the [verb]ing is telling you how the subject does the verb. “Swimming slowly” is how the alligator stalked its prey, “Carrying a box” is how Reed left a building. Sometimes this can even show a direct cause/effect relationship:

Housing prices continued to rise, forcing lower income people to move farther and farther from the downtown area.

The GMAT loves changing between a verb and a modifier that looks like a verb. Two big things to check when you notice such a change: structure and meaning.

And that’s it. Those are the four [verb]ing things an —ing word can do. No need to memorize any fancy words or grammar terms.

I hope you found this blog post helpful. Let’s just hope I don’t actually get [verb]ing fired for it. 📝


Want some more GMAT tips from Reed? Attend the first session of one of his upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached. Seriously.


Reed Arnold is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in New York, NY. He has a B.A. in economics, philosophy, and mathematics and an M.S. in commerce, both from the University of Virginia. He enjoys writing, acting, Chipotle burritos, and teaching the GMAT. Check out Reed’s upcoming GMAT courses here.

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