One of the most confusing issues for beginning Thai language students is how to conjugate/create “-ing” words; running, walking, eating… 

Before we dive into the Thai-specific concepts, it would be helpful to first make sure these concepts are understood in English.

What we are really talking about is the difference between a verb and a gerund; do you know the difference?

Present Participle

Verbs are easy; let’s be honest. A verb is an action word. For example: วิ่ง /wîng/ means “to run.” When you want to take a verb and make it into an -ing word (called a “present participle” in grammatical terms) you simply prefix the verb with กำลัง /gam-lang/.

So, if you want to use the word “running” in a sentence, you put กำลัง in front of วิ่ง and get กำลังวิ่ง — running! Here is a very simple sentence as an example:

ผมกำลังวิ่งกลับบ้าน
/pǒm gam-lang-wîng glàp bâan/
(I [male speaker] running return home)
I am running home.

Gerunds

A gerund, simply put, is when a verb is used as a noun. There are many cases when you use a verb to indicate the act of doing something as a subject rather than as a verb. In these cases, use precede the verb with การ /gaan/ to create the gerund. Here is an example:

การวิ่งเป็นการออกกำลังกายที่ดีมาก
/gaan-wîng bpen gaan-ɔ̀ɔk-gam-lang-gaai tîi dii mâak/
(running exercise “to be” good very/much)
Running is very good exercise.

I apologize if that last one messed with your head a little bit, but I think it’s a very good example. This sentence actually contains one of each in it — กำลังวิ่ง (running) and การออกกำลังกาย (exercise). The first is a present participle, and the second a gerund.

If you can wrap your head around when a verb should be treated as a verb (present participle) or as a noun (a gerund) it will make your life a lot easier. We take these concepts for granted in English by just saying “running” and the context being inherently understood. We don’t really get that luxury in Thai, however; but with practice it will become easy and apparent.

Good luck!