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A professor criticized the language in a presentation. In particular he said that English preferred a noun phrase such as a comparison of  to a gerund such as comparing.

For reference the entire sentence follows.

Comparing prominent symptoms in drug addiction with models of aberrant learning may help us understand how those symptoms arise

I have seen both forms used in the technical literature but his point was more one of general usage. I don’t intend to argue the point with him. I merely want to know if his point is more than one of personal preference.

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Maybe he didn’t like that one -ing was a verb phrase and the other an actual noun. – tchrist Aug 17 '12 at 14:19
I'd say that professor should stick to his specialist subject matter (drug addiction or whatever), and not waste the students' time promoting his own idiosyncratic linguistic preferences. – FumbleFingers Aug 17 '12 at 14:27
@Fumble Fingers: Some professors confuse mimicry with progress. The grumblings of another bedeviled graduate student aside, it's nice to know that I wasn't writing poor English even his would have been, at best, a minute point. – mac389 Aug 17 '12 at 14:44
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Both are grammatically correct, the meaning is the same, and neither seems particularly awkward or confusing. I'd say it's personal preference.

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I think there is a large element of personal preference in his comment, but I think his preference is justified.

Subjects and objects should, really, be nouns. While you often see "A gerund is a noun" written in amateur grammar sites, a gerund is not a noun. If it were, we would call it a noun and save a lot of confusion.

A gerund is a verbal noun, with characteristics of both noun and verb. It is the verbal characteristics that make is less suitable to be the subject or object of a sentence. Using the noun phrase makes it clear that you are referencing the concrete existence of a comparison, rather than the idea of an occurrence of comparing.

I am not suggesting the gerund is wrong, just that the noun phrase is arguably more elegant.

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Thanks for your comment. I thought gerunds were on an equal footing with other nouns and did not catch that they retained , shall we say, "verbish impurities". – mac389 Aug 17 '12 at 15:15
Why do you say ‘Subjects and objects should, really, be nouns’? You have yourself used not nouns, but clauses, as the subjects and objects in several of your sentences. – Barrie England Aug 17 '12 at 15:30
...because it is a lot easier to type than 'noun, noun clause, or noun phrase', and because mac389 doesn't strike me as the kind of person who needs it spelling out. – Roaring Fish Aug 17 '12 at 15:52
I appreciate the compliment @RoaringFish. – mac389 Aug 17 '12 at 19:21
Yet your link to Wikipedia starts out with "In linguistics, a verbal noun is a noun...." – Chan-Ho Suh Aug 18 '12 at 5:39

I would tend to use the gerund over the noun phrase in that instance, even though I admit "comparison of" does sound better to my ear. Nonetheless, both are correct, and I find your professor's insistence on one form rather suspect. What would he advise for "His continual leaving of unwashed dishes in the sink irritated his housemates."?

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That's a good point, Chan-Ho. Sometimes there is no clear alternative to a gerund that is not circumlocutory. (As an aside, he would probably advise that no one irritate him.) – mac389 Aug 18 '12 at 0:52

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