This is a follow-up to a previous question which I am still trying to understand. I think I'm making progress in my understanding, but I would appreciate feedback to help me refine my thinking. Here is the sentence:

Good writing requires hard work.

Originally, I thought that "writing" was acting as a gerund in this phrase. After reading through the replies to that question along with back posts related to gerunds, I've since concluded that "writing" in this sentence is a pure verbal noun, also termed a deverbal noun.

My reasoning?

—In the sentence above "writing" is modified by "good" and is thus acting more like a noun than a verb.
—It has no direct object.

Is my thinking correct here? If not, could someone politely help me to refine it?

However, what if I had written the following?

Writing well requires hard work.
To write well requires hard work.

In these examples, I'm thinking that "writing" would be a different kind of verbal noun—a non-finite verb acting as a gerund or infinitive, which is one piece of a larger complement noun clause.

The last bit is muddy for me, but I will leave it at that. Thank you in advance for your patience and insight.

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    This isn't really an answer, but what I hope is a helpful observation. You can modify a gerund by either adjectives or adverbs, but not both. For example, you can say "Writing well and authentically requires hard work," or "Good, authentic writing requires hard work." But you can't say *"Good writing authentically requires hard work." Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 20:45
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    @PeterShor: That's because it's not a real gerund in the second case, but a noun. Gerunds are still pretty verby. Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 20:46
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    @Elizabeth: You got it. Nouns are words that behave like nouns grammatically; verbs are words that behave like verbs grammatically. It's not a matter of definition, it's a matter of tests. Everybody has a syntax lab, but few of us are trained to use it properly. Some more examples of syntax lab work here. Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 20:48
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    And you've got to massage the tests if you wish to avoid conflicts. 'Tell Jim that his slowly painting his aunt is making her bored' needs political brazenness for one to pronounce a 'noun' or 'verb' verdict. I'm with Quirk's gradience ('painting' here is somewhere in between). Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 23:59
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    I know you want 'the correct answer' here, Elizabeth; you think it's a matter of mastering a difficult bit of English. The truth is that different experts actually disagree amongst themselves, and will give you different answers. (I'd say your 'writing' is a gerund.) Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 0:04

3 Answers 3


As both John Lawler and Edwin Ashworth note in the comments, you are correct. The primary example on the Wikipedia article you wrote is very similar to the usage you are asking about:

A verbal noun is a noun formed from or otherwise corresponding to a verb. Different languages have different types of verbal noun and different ways of forming and using them. An example of a verbal noun in English is the word singing in the sentence "I think singing is fun" (this is a noun formed from the verb sing).

You could, for instance, write:

Good singing requires hard work.

Your use of "writing" is operating in the same manner.


The grammaticality of the examples you present is fine. You analysis of the pure verbal noun is a possible misnomer (see more below). The act of generating a verbal noun is formally known as Nominalization. The attributes of a given verb are limited by the nominal construction and lexical considerations not by the verb root itself.

In the example you give "Good writing requires hard work." writing cannot take an object, but if you were to say "My writing requires hard work." then you could easily add an object producing "My writing papers is hard work.". The nominalized verbs ability to continue to take an object depends on the syntax of the noun phrase, not the nominalization of the verb itself.

As for the concept of a pure verbal noun, I don't think that will hold up. The valence of a verb (i.e. which objects it takes) appears to be a limitation of the syntactic construction than of the verb itself. It is also problematic that grammarians will describe some of these phonomena with terms that are not used in linguistics (my background). I think a good test for this is to see how many of the identified pure verbal noun constructions are preceeded by an article or some other quantifier that limits and/or changes the verb/object relationship.


Life's much simpler if we look at a gerund as verb present continuous, where it is, and a nominalization of verb, where it is.

The two uses are unrelated in behavior.

Verbs and nouns are chalk and cheese. The underlying semantic is common but the POSs are distinct.

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