Can the word formatting be used as a noun like in the following sentence:

Consider the formatting of this JavaScript code...

Or is it a gerund which should be used without an article:

Consider formatting of this JavaScript code...

Here is the context of the example sentence.

  • 2
    Why should gerunds be used without articles? *I never liked painting of Turner and Constable. Jan 17, 2014 at 0:07
  • @EdwinAshworth I thought that using an -ing word with an article makes it a noun not a gerund (a gerund transformed into a noun). Correct me if I am wrong. I think it may also depend on the English grammar (perhaps, different books may have different opinions).
    – Alexey
    Jan 17, 2014 at 0:15
  • Your understanding is indeed wrong. A gerund is a present participle used as a noun. So every gerund is a noun by definition. If it is not a noun, it is not a gerund, either. An article alone does not change anything. If you drop an article in front of a noun, it is still a noun, you just get an ungrammatical sentence. Likewise, if you just slap an article in front of a random word in a sentence, you won't turn it into a noun, you'll just get an ungrammatical result.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 17, 2014 at 11:34
  • We've had quite a few discussions on the right way to analyse -ing forms. John Lawler says: 'The distinction between the two terms "participle" and "gerund" isn't really applicable to Modern English. It's a traditional one based on Latin morphology and syntax." I'd add that the term 'gerund' is used in confusingly different ways by different people. Quirk prefers to consider a gradience from the deverbal noun (if available) all the way to the participle. I dropped the painting <==> He was painting a picture. Jan 17, 2014 at 11:37
  • ...I'm happy with the Quirk gradience (though it's not perfect – models in English never seem to be). 'Velecka GerundTranslation Thesis - Scribd' (I can't link) gives an overview of different approaches to the analysis of -ing forms. If I had to use the term gerund, I'd reserve it for -ing forms nearer (but not at) the nounal end of the cline: His painting (= occupation/hobby not picture) is not going to make him any money. Jan 17, 2014 at 11:47

3 Answers 3


Yes. Formatting can be used as a noun. In American English, the article signals that that the next word is a noun.

Leave out the "the" and your sentence becomes an aborted present participle. IOW the phrase "Consider formatting..." is in the imperative case—you are ordering the reader to write the code in an alternate way.

  • 2
    "In American English, the article signals that the next word is a noun." is a weird thing to say, for two reasons. First, you are suggesting that articles in non-American English are used differently. Secondly and most importantly, you suggest that "next" is a noun. Your statement is a direct contradiction of itself.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 17, 2014 at 11:41
  • So 'the more the merrier' is only used in Merry Olde England? Jan 17, 2014 at 11:50
  • @EdwinAshworth According to my dictionary, the in the more the merrier in an adverb. Again, different grammars may have different opinions. But it's not an article because it's used in a very different way here.
    – Alexey
    Jan 17, 2014 at 13:27
  • @RegDwigнt An article can be used before a noun or a noun phrase (e.g., next word). Maybe, saying just "a noun" is a reasonable simplification.
    – Alexey
    Jan 17, 2014 at 15:27
  • @Alexey This is probably the most unjustifiable saddling of a word with the tag 'adverb' known to mankind. And there are plenty of unjustifiable ones. The fixed expression is probably an elision from 'the more people who turn up, the merrier the party will be' or something similar, where the usage of the article is unremarkable. Cobuild have a 100+ page monograph on articles, so they must think there are a fair number of usages. We could go on to argue whether 'article' is a dustbin class, of course. 'The article signals that what follows is usually a noun group' works. Jan 17, 2014 at 15:30

Participles are wondrous works of miracles. They transform verbs into nouns or adjectives, or even adverbs.

verb: paint

He paints horses and lighthouses.

Present participle as noun = gerund.

Gerund related indirectly to the verb (Noun describing the consequence/product of the verb):

His paintings sell very well.

Gerund related directly to the verb (Noun describing the verb):

His painting of horses and houses is a lucrative business.

Present participle used as adjective:

All running dogs die.
/* Running Dogs is term used on traitors who collaborated with the Japanese invasion of south-east and far-east Asia. Original usage here, which was then used pejoratively by the Resistance militias on traitors. */

I found the smoking gun.

Present participle used as adverb, i.e. as a modifier to a verb. I think some people dispute this is a form of adverb, but the participle does modify the verb, doesn't it?:

He ran panting.
She eats talking.
He speaks sitting.
He was caught stealing, he was caught red-handed.

Use generalizer or specifier?

The question should not be asked whether you should use a generalizer or specifier on a participle, or leave it as default (unspecified). Do not put the horse behind the cart. First decide if you are using a verb as a verb, a noun participle, adjectival participle or as adverbial participle. Once you have decided that, blind yourself to the fact that you are using a participle, and then ask yourself if a generalizer or specifier should be used on that verb, noun, adjective, adverb.

  • default: Running dogs will die for their sins.
  • generalizer: All running dogs will die for their sins.
  • generalizer: A running dog will die for his sins.
  • generalizer: Any running dog will die for his sins.
  • generalizer: Few running dogs will die for their sins.

  • specifier: Their sinning had caused the torture and execution of many of their compatriots in the war.

  • specifier: Her running private errands for her boss is considered unethical exploitation by her boss.
  • generalizer: A painting is not a salable commodity at current market conditions.
  • specifier: The painting is of high quality.

Let's look at the word format:

  • default: Formatting is not required. Jackets are also not required.
  • default: He considers formatting as unnecessary. He also considers jackets unnecessary.
  • generalizer: He considers any formatting extraneous.
  • specifier: Your formatting is ugly.
  • I don't think many people would class 'painting/s' in 'his paintings sell well' as a gerund. It has full noun status, accepting articles and relevant adjectives, and having a plural form. Since it is derived (or perhaps converted) from the verb 'paint' (or the participle 'painting'), but has achieved full membership of the word class nouns, it is called a deverbal noun. Jan 17, 2014 at 15:54
  • Thx Edwin, the gerund should not involve the nominative, but I'll leave it unedited, with the notes here. Jan 17, 2014 at 23:20

Formatting is a gerund - the present participle of a verb used as a noun. So the can be used with it, just like any other noun. A gerundive is where the present participle of a verb is used as an adjective. For example, 'running shoes' is a gerundive (adjective) but 'I like running' is a gerund (noun).

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