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Eyeing or Eying: Understanding the Proper Usage of these Terms

The word “eyeing” is the gerund or present participle of the word “eye.” In this case, the word “eye” is used as a verb, meaning to look at something closely or in particular. That is why it receives an -ing suffix to conjugate it when used as a present participle, meaning that the action is taking place at that very moment.

Eyeing is the correct conjugation of the verb “to eye,” and we can properly use it in various circumstances as the functioning present participle. Although American dictionaries will list the version “eying” as an alternative spelling for the present participle, it’s regarded in British English as formally incorrect and only used as a suffix in words like “monkeying.”

In essence, “eyeing” can stand on its own, whereas “eying” would be the less common variant in American English of “eyeing” or the correct suffix of other present participles. This article will take a closer look at the difference between the two and the proper usage of each.

Eyeing vs. Eying

As we’ve taken a look at present participles, we can see that “eyeing” would constitute an exception to the rule that we drop the last -e of the word “eye” to form the present participle “eyeing.”

The reason is the word “eye” ends on a vowel sound, and dropping the -e, particularly for second-language speakers, may cause confusion, ambiguity, or uncertainty regarding how to pronounce the word. 

By retaining the last -e in “eye,” the present participle “eyeing” becomes clear in both meaning and pronunciation.

The same can be said for “age,” where “ageing” helps the reader pronounce the word correctly in British English.

However, in American English, which has favored using as few letters as possible, the spelling is “aging.” Oddly enough, American English still favors “eyeing” over “eying,” though both are acceptable.

There are other instances where dropping the -e would change the form of the word, but not necessarily the meaning, and that occurs in other parts of speech as well, not only verbs, as is the case with useable and usable. See our article detailing that difference by clicking the link.

The Proper Usage of Eyeing

As we have explored earlier in this article, the word “eyeing” more often the correct present participle of the verb “to eye.” The following are some examples pertaining to the proper usage of “eyeing”:

I am eyeing the last donut.

The teacher will be eyeing the students during the exam in order to catch cheaters.

The dog is eyeing the ball, willing you to play fetch. 

The Proper Usage of Eying

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The word “eying” is a less-common manner of writing the present participle of the word “eye.” However, it is not unheard of in the history of the English language, albeit frowned upon by British English sticklers for grammar.

The Tribune and Times Way

In the past, newspapers had a character count that could not be exceeded, and this led to both The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune newspapers adopting alternative, yet simpler spellings of words.

The New York Times ran an article on Sunday, January 28, 1934, that stated Colonel Robert R. McCormick, publisher of The Chicago Tribune, had changed the spelling of his name to “M’Cormik.”

This dropping of letters coincided with the publication in the Sunday Tribune of a list of 24 words that they had started to spell in a simpler manner.

By 1949, spelling simplifications had become so commonplace in newspapers such as The Tribune that the word “eying” was regularly used without its second -e, alongside other such simplified spellings as “aging,” “cigaret,” and “enrolment” (source). 

In this case, we can see that the word “eying” was an accepted and conscious attempt to respell the word, which means that the formally correct and most popular form would still have been “eyeing.” 

Eying as a Suffix

There is one other instance in which the form “eying” would be accepted, and that is as a suffix of another word. In this case, the letters “eying” would be forming the present participle of an entirely different verb than “eye.”

One such instance is the word “monkey,” where “monkeying” would use “eying” as a suffix to form the present participle.

Here follows a list of examples of -eying used correctly as a suffix:

The children are monkeying around.

We are journeying around the country.

The vandals are keying the car.

The children are obeying the teacher.

The jackals are preying on the eggs. 

The ladies are curtseying

The suffix -eying can be used to construct the present participle of any verb ending in -ey. 

Eye as a Verb

The word “eye” can be either a noun or a verb in the English language. As a noun, it pertains to the sensory ocular structure that allows us to perceive images.

It is the light-sensitive organ that translates light, color, and shadow into images in our brains. The eye is what makes it possible for us to see. 

As a verb, the word “eye” takes on a slightly different meaning. If you were to use “eye” as a verb, you would be explaining the act of seeing with your eyes or the act of looking at something specifically, intensely, or longingly (source). 

Conjugating Eye as a Verb for Subject

Any verb in the English language has a series of conjugations, and we can conjugate a verb according to either the subject or the tense.

Conjugating a verb means you’re changing its form out of the infinitive, essentially making a new word out of an existing one.

In this case, “to eye” would be the infinitive form of “eye” as a verb. You will need to conjugate it when using it in a sentence to clarify meaning.

You can conjugate a verb according to subject, number, tense, and aspect in English.

The subject refers to the person or animal you’re talking about; the number indicates whether it is singular or plural; the tense speaks to either present, past, or future; and the aspect is the degree to which an action has been completed.

The most basic conjugation is conjugating the verb according to the subject, and it is fairly simple to do in English. Let’s take a look at an ordinary example, as well as an example featuring the word “eye.”

PronounTo DanceTo Eye
Idanceeye
Youdanceeye
He/She/Itdanceseyes
Wedanceeye
Theydanceeye

As we can see in the example above, the verb remains the same for all subjects except for he/she/it when it gets an -s added to the infinitive. 

Conjugating Eye as a Verb for Tense

Three basic tenses exist in the English language, namely, past, present, and future. Any verbs used in a sentence will need to be conjugated to express the tense in which they occur. 

The present-tense conjugation for verbs is the same as conjugating for subject; the only form that will change is the third-person singular (he/she/it), and it will only get an additional -s.

The simple past-tense conjugation for verbs is, well, very simple as the infinitive of the verb will only get either -d or -ed added to the end depending on the last letter of the verb in question. 

PronounTo DanceTo Eye
Idancedeyed
Youdancedeyed
He/She/Itdancedeyed
Wedancedeyed
Theydancedeyed

In the simple future tense, the only thing you need to do to conjugate the verb is to add the word “will” in front of the verb. In this case, the infinitive form of the word remains the same.

Conjugating Eye as a Verb for Aspect

The first instance where we will see the word “eye” turn to “eyeing” is conjugating for aspect.

A verb’s aspect is the degree to which an action has been completed, and there are three aspects in the English language: present simple, progressive, and perfect.

PronounPresent SimpleProgressivePerfect
Ieyeam eyeinghave eyed
Youeyeare eyeinghave eyed
He/She/Iteyesis eyeinghas eyed
Weeyeare eyeinghave eyed
Theyeyeare eyeinghave eyed

As you can see from the example above, the progressive aspect uses the -ing version of the verb along with the conjugated verb “to be” in front of it. In this case, the spelling of “eyeing” is correct as it follows the same rules as other gerunds or present participles (source). 

A Word About Present Participles

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A present participle can be defined as a word that ends in -ing. This means that the word “eyeing” is a present participle.

In the English language, a present participle will always come after another verb to show that an action is continuous or ongoing. It is used to form the present continuous tense (source).

Here are some examples of present participles, indicating how the word “eyeing” follows the same rules.

In these examples, the subject we are conjugating is “I,” indicated in purple. In contrast, we can see the infinitive form of the verbs in the simple present and the conjugation of the verbs in the present continuous in red.

VerbSimple PresentPresent Continuous
EyeI eye your answers.I am eyeing your answers.
DanceI dance to music.I am dancing to music.
CookI cook for my family.I am cooking for my family.

As we can see in the example above, the word “eye” here follows a lot of the same rules as other regular verbs when conjugated for the present continuous and, therefore, in the form of a present participle. 

However, other verbs, like dance, that also end in -e often see the last -e dropped to form the present participle. Let’s take a look at some examples:

InfinitivePresent Participle
DanceDancing
GlanceGlancing
LanceLancing
PrancePrancing

From this table, we may well assume that the word “eye” follows this same rule, which would mean that the present participle will be spelled “eying,” so why is this not the accepted form of the word? 

Exploring Exceptions

In English, as there are rules relating to grammar and language use, so there are exceptions, with “eyeing” being one of them.  

While it is customary to drop the -e in most words when forming present participles, one exception is that we cannot drop the -e when the word ends on a double-e. This means that the word “see” will become “seeing.”

Also, the -e cannot be dropped if it indicates the only vowel sound before the “ing,” which means that the word “be” will become “being,” as otherwise the entire sound of the word will be altered.

The most important mandatory exception to the rule pertains to the fact that the -e cannot be dropped if it will construe a confusion of the meaning of the word. 

If dropping the -e would cause ambiguity in any way, the word will retain its -e. This is true in the case of “sing” and “singe” where “sing” becomes “singing” and “singe” becomes “singeing,” retaining its -e to avoid ambiguity with the word “sing.” 

Other words that keep their -e are words that end in -oe, as in “canoe” or “shoe,” where these present participles will become “canoeing” and “shoeing.”

Conjugation may seem like a complex subject, and there are numerous tenses in the English language that each require their own conjugations.

That is why it is so useful for second-language learners to be equipped with the correct study aids to help them on their journey. 

Final Thoughts

Although “eyeing” and “eying” may seem to mean the same thing and be different spellings of the same word, some grammarians argue this is not the case. Instead, “eyeing” is the correct and formal spelling of the present participle of the verb “to eye.” 

In some instances, it could be shortened to “eying,” but this can lead to mispronunciation and should be avoided. When perceived as a suffix, the letters -eying can be used to construct the present participle of any verbs ending in -ey.