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“The” before a gerund
Thread poster: Vaddy Peters
Apr 8, 2012

I’ve always taken it for granted that gerunds can’t be plural, take adjectives or articles.
Here is an extract from my letter to my friend in Pennsylvania who happens to be a teacher of History:
Teaching - and studying at the same time - the language of English I have to answer all kinds of questions asked both by my students and myself concerning certain aspects of it. For example, I sometimes run into sentences like “She was watching the skating of two girls she had never seen there before.” I looked through the Collins Cobuild English Guides Articles book by Roger Berry but didn’t find any suitable answer to the question of article usage here. ‘Skating’ looks to be a gerund and we don’t normally use articles with gerunds. I wonder if some of your colleagues - English teachers - could explain this case to me. (end of quote)
My friend, in due course, consulted one of their English teachers and this is what she wrote:
Though the sentence in question is somewhat awkward in construction, it is not incorrect as far as I can tell. An article can be used before a gerund as in the following sentence: “The running of the race was the highlight of the event.” I can suggest ways to rephrase the sentence if your friend needs a revision, but I think he’s questioning the use of the article. He sounds like an interesting fellow. (end of quote)
Then I looked into my copy of Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary (Sixth edition) and read: run-ning* noun [U] 1 the action of sport of running…
So, the question is still in the air.


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
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"Gerund" is not really correct Apr 8, 2012

Instead of "gerund", "-ing form" or "present participle" is preferred.

-ing forms can act as verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs.

Verb: They were playing until late last night.

Noun: We love eating out; Smoking is forbidden.

Adjective: Waiting room; Sleeping bag; dressing room.

Adverb: He sat reading in the corner; She ran into the room crying.

In reference to your query: The sewing on this tablecloth is of good quality, The singing improved after the new teacher joined the school; The dancing in the new show is better than what we saw last year.

I'm writing from memory but I remember Michael Swan's grammer book(s) explains it very well.

[Edited at 2012-04-08 19:57 GMT]


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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:04
Italian to English
Gut response Apr 8, 2012

English native speakers are probably the last people to ask about the rules; we (think we) know what's right just from instinct and experience.

There is nothing relevant in Fowler's "The King's English" which might be expected to offer the most pedantic view, but the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerund offers one example under "Gerunds and present participles", namely: "John suggested the asking of Bill". This is of course very unnatural English; colloquial usage would be "John suggested asking Bill" and the written version perhaps "John suggested that Bill be asked".

Perhaps the most common use of gerunds is for activities such as "skating" but, to my ear, the use of an article is not wrong when referring to a specific instance, as in your example. Nevertheless, a more likely way of expressing the same thing might be: "She was watching two girls skating, whom she had never seen there before.”


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:04
Hebrew to English
Gerunds are basically nouns, think of them thus Apr 8, 2012

I wouldn't get too wound up with the linguistic terminology, it is after all, just an abstraction, sometimes useful to explain/describe language, but also sometimes confusing.

I don't think it matters whether you prefer to call them "ing-forms" or "gerunds", although here's where the confusion comes in - not every "ing form" is a gerund.

It's not also always so crystal clear where the line between gerund and verb meet, it can sometimes blur.

The simplest way of looking at it.....

Gerunds are basically nouns. They act like non-count/uncountable mass nouns such as "stuff/fog/baggage/equipment etc" in that they are rarely plural, although it does happen occasionally with gerunds.. "his writings are world-renowned", for example.

Acting like nouns, they can also take articles, adjectives and even follow prepositions.

For a discussion on the distinction between gerunds/participles see Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech & Svartvik
(A comprehensive grammar of the English language).


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
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-ing forms can't take adjectives? Apr 8, 2012

Vaddy Peters wrote:

I’ve always taken it for granted that gerunds can’t be plural, take adjectives or articles.


-ing form with adjectives: The brilliant dancing made me remember the show I saw in Paris; The wonderful singing made me forget where I was; The book we were told to buy made interesting reading ; The interesting findings discovered by the archeologists...


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Steven Hanley  Identity Verified
United States
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It's not a gerund Apr 8, 2012

In the sentence you object to:

"“She was watching the skating of two girls she had never seen there before.”

"Skating" is not a gerund; it as noun.

There is sometimes a fine line between a noun and a gerund, but, for example, "asking" is a gerund - there is no noun form of "to ask" - so in "Do you mind my asking?", "asking" is a gerund.

Two other gerunds would be, "I don't mind missing him - in fact, I rather enjoy the suffering."

Neither "missing" nor "suffering" are nouns; they are gerunds.

"Swimming," on the other hand, is a noun, as is "skating," but "kissing" is not.

The sentence you object to is grammatically correct; perhaps you would like it rephrased, to "She was watching two girls skating whom she had never seen there before," where "skating" is a gerund, but it means something different; here she is watching the girls, there she was watching the skating.

Rephrase the original sentence - "I was watching the skating of the pros, and I was envious" - and now it is not so objectionable. You might want to say, "I was watching how the pros skate," but that doesn't make the first sentence wrong.

Unlike what was stated previously, "writing" is a noun - one submits a "writing" into court. "Singing" is also a noun. "Singeing," however, is not a noun: "I watched the singeing of the leather, and I was horrified!"

"Laughing is good for you" - "laughing" is a gerund. "Laughter" is the noun.

Unlike above, in that use, "dancing" is also a noun, not a gerund. In, "Would you mind dancing with me?" dancing is a gerund.

In Romance languages (the only ones I know!) gerunds are usually indicated using the infinitive: "La vi llorar" = "I saw her crying." "La vi llorando" - "ando" being Spanish for "ing" - means "I was crying when I saw her."

And I object to "ing form": a gerund is as a gerund does.










[Edited at 2012-04-08 20:01 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-04-08 20:05 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 02:04
Chinese to English
Agree with Steven Apr 8, 2012

Two key points about your sentence:

1) It is grammatically correct

2) It does NOT mean "She was watching two girls skating..."

By making "the skating" the object of the verb, you've highlighted it. I would now expect the next sentence to tell me something about the skating (e.g. it was a style of skating she had never seen before...).


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
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Gerund/-ing form Apr 8, 2012

Steven Hanley wrote:

And I object to "ing form": a gerund is as a gerund does.


I suggest you tell Michael Swan and his "Practical English Usage" what you think. As far as I know, a gerund has to be accompanied by a copulative verb.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:04
Hebrew to English
Steven, I don't think you understand gerunds in English Apr 8, 2012

there is no noun form of "to ask"

Really? "It's a big ask for him to go and play 90 minutes" (Oxford English Dictionary)

"“She was watching the skating [of two girls she had never seen there before.]”

"Skating" is not a gerund; it as noun.


"Skating" is a gerund here, a gerund as a direct object.

"A gerund is a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. The term verbal indicates that a gerund, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since a gerund functions as a noun, it occupies some positions in a sentence that a noun ordinarily would, for example: subject, direct object, subject complement, and object of preposition.

Gerund as subject:

•Traveling might satisfy your desire for new experiences. (Traveling is the gerund.)
•The study abroad program might satisfy your desire for new experiences. (The gerund has been removed.)

Gerund as direct object:

•They do not appreciate my singing. (The gerund is singing.)
•They do not appreciate my assistance. (The gerund has been removed)

Gerund as subject complement:

•My cat's favorite activity is sleeping. (The gerund is sleeping.)
•My cat's favorite food is salmon. (The gerund has been removed.)
Gerund as object of preposition:

•The police arrested him for speeding. (The gerund is speeding.)
•The police arrested him for criminal activity. (The gerund has been removed.)

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/627/01


[Edited at 2012-04-08 22:49 GMT]


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
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Probably, but not always Apr 8, 2012

Russell Jones wrote:

English native speakers are probably the last people to ask about the rules;


But there are exceptions. For example, when you're British and you've studied your degree in English Philology in a foreign country and you've had to analyse your mother tongue from the perspective of a non-native speaker of English.

[Edited at 2012-04-08 20:38 GMT]


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
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Don't use fluffy Victorian definitions: try and identify a syntactic test Apr 8, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:
The term verbal indicates that a gerund, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being.


I think you need to think about stricter defining criteria than Victorian grammar notions such as "expresses an action or state of being"-- otherwise most of the time you will end up just arguing yourself round in circles.

In this specific case, I would suggest using the term "gerund" for cases where the -ing form is "verbal" enough that it takes an adverb rather than adjective, e.g.:

"His careful skating..." -> 'skating' is predominantly nominal
"Him/his carefully skating..." -> 'skating' is predominantly verbal (note the use of the -ly form) form -> "gerund"

(Of course it doesn't really matter at all what you call it, so long as you identify the two distinct cases and understand their different syntax. Labelling one or any of them as "gerund" is just stamp-collecting.)

[Edited at 2012-04-08 21:39 GMT]


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:04
Hebrew to English
Agree, I was perhaps trying too hard to keep it simple Apr 8, 2012

If I could have I would have posted the relevant parts from Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik (pages 1063-1067) - it explains it far better than I ever could, alas my technical ability prevented me from doing that. In addition, it can be quite headache-inducing, that's why I opted for something simpler, albeit perhaps less eloquent.
(The chapter on: Syntactic and Semantic functions of subordinate clauses > Nominal clauses > -ing clauses).

[Edited at 2012-04-08 21:46 GMT]


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Steven Hanley  Identity Verified
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Spanish to English
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Not a gerund, sorry, according to Oxford Apr 8, 2012

In this case, "She was watching the skating of the girls," "skating" is a noun: the act of skating.

That is from Oxford: "skating" is a noun, derivative of "to skate."

According to Oxford, "running" is not a noun, nor is "trotting," but that makes sense: "I was watching the running of John" makes no sense (though "the running of the bulls" might be the only exception to that), nor does "I was watching the trotting of the horses," as "I was watching the trot of the horses," or "the horses trot" are correct.

If it said, "She was watching the girls skating," then yes, it would be a gerund, though it would be more correct to say, "She was watching the girls skate."

Gerunds follow other verbs, adjectives, and prepositions. I am not sure that there is 100% agreement as to when the "ing" form of a verb is considered a noun unto itself, but I believe it is definitely a gerund when:

1) it can be replaced with the infinitive;
2) it is not an adjective;
3) it is not a present participle.

As I said, I've seen different opinions, but what I glean is:

1) "Swimming coach," "swimming" is not a gerund, but a present participle functioning as an adjective.
2) "I like swimming," "swimming" is a gerund (it can be replaced by "to swim").
3) "Swimming is fun," "swimming" is a gerund (it can be replaced by "to swim").
3) "Watching the swimming of sharks is enjoyable," "swimming" is a noun - it is neither a present participle, nor a adjective.
4) "Watching sharks swimming," "swimming" a gerund.

"The Big Ask" is slang. There is a noun "ask" in stock trading, "bid and ask," but I was referring "to ask a question."

And calling it the "ing" form is wrong, as there are many instances of "ing" forms of verbs that are not gerunds, such as every time a verb is a present participle ("I was singing in the rain").


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 02:04
Chinese to English
In English, almost anything can be acceptable in context... Apr 9, 2012

Steven says:

"'I was watching the running of John' makes no sense"

I can think of a context in which that would be fine: imagine an athletics coach doing some video analysis:

"I saw that three of our athletes have started to get more spring in their gait, so I was watching the running of John to see if he's got it, too..."

Similar scenarios can be constructed for your trotting example.

I've found that almost any string of words can be made to made sense in English (within certain limits!). When I do English teaching I run into this problem all the time: having to tell the student your sentence is not necessarily unacceptable, but it doesn't mean exactly what you think it means, or it wouldn't be used that way by a native speaker.

And this is why English is so hard, oh my non-native speaking colleagues. It's just as subtle and complex as (whisper it) your own native language. Yes, even Chinese. You can't learn it out of a book.


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:04
French to English
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Swimming examples Apr 9, 2012

Steven Hanley wrote:
1) "Swimming coach," "swimming" is not a gerund, but a present participle functioning as an adjective.
2) "I like swimming," "swimming" is a gerund (it can be replaced by "to swim").
3) "Swimming is fun," "swimming" is a gerund (it can be replaced by "to swim").
3) "Watching the swimming of sharks is enjoyable," "swimming" is a noun - it is neither a present participle, nor a adjective.
4) "Watching sharks swimming," "swimming" a gerund.


In (1), unless you're actually saying that the coach is in the act of swimming (as in e.g. "the quick-swimming coach saved his pupil's life") it's indeed not a gerund, but it's probably more satisfactory to say that it's a noun (not an adjective), part of a N+N compound.

Note that the adjective/adverb test I mentioned above would generally differentiate these (though the other tests you mention help to justify the distinction).


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“The” before a gerund

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