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Reading the sentence shown in the sign below got me thinking about what part of speech, or lexical class, the word 'walking' is.

"In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified." So I thought 'walking' was an adjective.

But, "In grammar, an attributive verb is a verb which modifies (gives the attributes of) a noun as an attributive, rather than expressing an independent idea as a predicate." So, at second look, 'walking' seems an 'attributive verb'; therefore the word is a participle. Is it?

Or is the word a gerund?

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So far as I'm concerned, "attributive verbs" are simply a sub-class of "adjectives", that happen to be transparently derived from verbs. Similar to the way "gerund" is a subclass of "nouns" derived from verbs, but at least "gerund" is well-established terminology. Here's a totally different concept of "attributive verbs", which I think is a fairly pointless term anyway. –  FumbleFingers Jun 26 '12 at 23:49
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It's part of a construction, and it's got verbal and adjectival features. Whatever you want to call it, it'll be an atypical example, and giving it one label or another has exactly as much value for understanding the construction as painting the words different colors did. Walking is Red is this sign. –  John Lawler Jun 27 '12 at 0:26
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3 Answers 3

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According to traditional grammar, this is a gerund, indicating the action or process of walking, as in catching butterflies is fun. But there is a catch. Gerunds can be considered a type of noun; as such, it is here used as an adjective to modify trail, just as most nouns in English can be used as adjectives, as in a phone booth, a cookie jar. (It could also be argued that walking-trail has since become a fixed phrase and therefore a noun of its own, but that doesn't really matter.)

Edit: Why is it not a participle? Well, if you have [present participle] [noun], and you were to convert this into a relative clause, like [noun] [relative pronoun] [finite verb], the relative pronoun would be the subject of the verb, and so the antecedent would be the entity that "does" the verb.

Examples: a moving car ⇒ a car that moves; a walking child ⇒ a child that walks. This does not work in the case of the trail: a walking trail ⇒ *a trail that walks. In our sentence, walking is not a participle, because walking is only semantically linked to trail in a general way, not as a converted subject.

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I don't think your example is really fitting: catching is the subject of your sentence and thus it needs to be a gerund, whereas in Carlo's example walking is something which defines the kind of trail we're talking about, and so I'd say it is a present participle which acts as an adjective. –  Paola Jun 27 '12 at 0:03
    
@Cerberus: Do you use gerund for any -ing form, or do you make any other distinctions? I usually have a more restricted sense in mind when I use gerund. –  John Lawler Jun 27 '12 at 0:33
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@Paola: I have to disagree: if you have [present participle][noun], and you were to convert this into a relative clause, like [noun][relative pronoun][finite verb], the relative pronoun would be the subject of the verb, and so the antecedent would be the entity that "does" the verb. Examples: a moving car => a car that moves; a walking child => a child that walks. This does not work in the case of the trail: a walking trail => *a trail that walks. In our sentence, walking is a noun-gerund, because walking is only semantically linked to trail in a general way. –  Cerberus Jun 27 '12 at 0:42
    
@JohnLawler: I use it in the traditional sense, in constructions where an -ing form functions more or less as a noun. If I had to come up with a practical criterion, it might be this: an -ing form is a participle if there is a (pro)noun in the same clause that a.) fulfills the same function as a subject would if the verb were a finite, active verb, and b.) can be said to be modified by the -ing form, either predicatively or attributively. Otherwise, it must be a gerund. –  Cerberus Jun 27 '12 at 1:34
    
... I need the following premises: 1.) a clause is a finite verb with its constituents; and 2.) a standard adverbial constituent does not modify the subject of a sentence. –  Cerberus Jun 27 '12 at 1:35
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In this case, walking is an adjective. From MW:

walking: adj. 2a: used for or in walking <walking shoes>

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As Barrie explains, it is unhelpful to call this an adjective, just because it modifies a noun. Just because MW does so, does not mean it is so. –  Colin Fine Jun 27 '12 at 10:45
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A noun can be modified by an adjective or by another noun and this remains true when the modifying word ends, as in the example, in -ing. The 'Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English' has an elegant test for deciding which it is. If the clause can be paraphrased using a relative clause, then the -ing form is an adjective. If it can be paraphrased using a prepositional phrase, then the -ing form is a noun. This enables us to distinguish between the adjective running in running water (water that runs) and the noun running in running shoes (shoes for running).

If we apply the test to the example, it becomes clear that we cannot say Pets prohibited on trail which walks, so walking can’t be an adjective. Pets prohibited on trail for walking, however, makes sense, so walking must be a noun.

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