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I notice this particular construction every time I happen across it:

  • I heard the door close.
  • I heard the door closing.
    • OR:
  • I felt my stomach rumble.
  • I felt my stomach rumbling.


I always kick myself for having trouble identifying the difference here. Are they fully interchangeable? What parts of speech are being expressed here, and are they different in each example?

Would love to hear some thoughts!

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Hi, iankms,

@iankms posted:
  • 1.a. I heard the door close.
  • 1.b. I heard the door closing.
  • 2.a. I felt my stomach rumble.
  • 2.b. I felt my stomach rumbling.

In the sentences I marked as (a) the non-finite functioning as object complement (i.e. as referring to the object "the door" and "my stomach) is an infinitive, while in the sentences identified as (b) the object complement is a present participle.

With some verbs, the infinitive is used to describe a complete action, and the present participle is used to refer to a moment while the action is in progress. This can be more clearly seen in sentences like the following:

3.a. I saw him cross the street (from curb to curb)
3.b. I saw him crossing the street (in the middle of the street)

4.a. I heard her sing a song (the whole song)
4.b. I heard her singing a song (part of the song)

In sentences (1) above, we can imagine the subtle difference between the door actually clicking or slamming shut in (a) (action completed) and the door hinges squeaking as the door was about to close in (b) (action in progress).

In sentences (2), "rumbling" seems to evoke several rumbling noises, while "rumble" describes a single, perhaps extended noise.

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