I am translating a video game into German and I have many lines which in English use the gerund (-ing form) of a verb. If I understand correctly, in German the present participle (-nd form of a verb) is used much less often than we might use the gerund in English. Lingolia (https://deutsch.lingolia.com/en/grammar/verbs/participles) says it can be used in various cases for "simultaneous actions or actions that are in progress at or around the moment of speaking," but this is a broad category and it seems to me it would not be appropriate to use a participle in every such case. Are there any clear rules beyond that for when it should or should not be used?

For example, in English I might have a sentence like

Two fine-looking horses stand at the edge of the forest, one drinking water and the other idly nibbling some leaves.

I could translate this as

Zwei gut aussehende Pferde stehen am Waldrand, das eine Wasser trinkend und das andere träge auf einigen Blätter knabbernd.

These actions all happen at the same time, but I believe this is not proper style in German, so I need to change it to something like this:

... das eine trinkt Wasser und das andere knabbert träge auf einigen Blätter.

To give another example,

Using a chair and the carvings around the door for support, you deftly make your way up to the window.

If I translate the -ing form of the verb into the participle in German it would be something like

Sich mit einem Stuhl und der Schnitzerei um der Tür herum stützend, kommst du geschickt zum Fenster an.

But I get this sense that this is wrong, and that I would have to instead say something which changes the sense of the text slightly, like

Du stützt dich mit einem Stuhl und der Schnitzerei um der Tür herum, um geschickt zum Fenster anzukommen.

Is there anything beyond my own instinct as to what sounds wrong that can guide me here?

  • 2
    I wouldn’t use “Sie” to address the player.
    – Carsten S
    Jul 9, 2023 at 18:20
  • 2
    The -ing form here is not the gerund, it is the present participle. Both have the same form but their respective function is different.
    – RHa
    Jul 9, 2023 at 18:37
  • 2
    Auf etwas knabbern sounds unnatural to me. I'd say an etwas knabbern. Jul 9, 2023 at 20:26
  • 1
    … das eine trinkt Wasser und das andere knabbert träge auf einigen Blättern. Dative plural has an extra n.
    – Janka
    Jul 9, 2023 at 21:57
  • 1
    Du windest dich mit einem Stuhl und der Schnitzerei an der Tür vorbei, um geschickt an das Fenster zu kommen.
    – Janka
    Jul 9, 2023 at 21:59

2 Answers 2


You're right in that English uses the -ing form much more often than German uses the -nd form. In particular when you say "is ...-ing" in English you almost always have to rephrase. So "The man is smoking" becomes "Der Mann raucht." You do use the -nd form if it's being used like an adjective before a noun and "The smoking man is following Mulder" becomes "Der rauchende Mann verfolgt Mulder." The first sentence illustrates both cases; in "aussehende Pferde" it appears before the noun but "knabbert" rather than "knabbernd". With the second sentence I think it would be better to rephrase completely: "Mit Hilfe eines Stuhles ..."

There is an exception though; if the -ing form is used to describe not what the thing is doing but the effect it has, then German still uses the -nd form: "Der Film ist spannend." The movie isn't getting excited but it excites people in general. The word "spannend" here is more like an actual adjective in this case.

As noted in one of the comments, this refers to the present participle which has the same -ing form as the gerund in English, but the gerund is a different idea and has a different form in German. You can use the -ing form to turn a verb into a noun representing an activity: "Climbing is dangerous." In German you just capitalize the verb: "Klettern ist gefährlich." German also has a suffix -ung with can turn a verb in a noun representing an event or an abstraction. So "üben" (to practice) becomes "Übung" (practice).

  • 1
    Good examples, but to avoid any confusion, I'd like to add that "the (cigarette) smoking man" (CSM) was not usually called "der rauchende Mann" in German, but rather "der Kettenraucher" or just "der Raucher". ("Cancer Man" was translated as "Krebskandidat".) Jul 9, 2023 at 20:51

This is a difficult question. I think, in your examples the German participles would be grammatically possible, or marginally possible, but are stylistically awkward. A speculation I can offer is that the English -ing-form is more flexible because it is an accepted nonfinite verb form, sometimes perhaps a progressive in which the auxiliary has been omitted: "one horse (was) drinking water" -- hence clearly -ing as a verb form. The German participle -end is always an adjective. Maybe this explains that it is more restricted in forming a small clause of its own.

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