I've been studying the Huddleston and Pullum book for four months now. So far only one thing confuses me: the identity of gerund. Is it a noun or a verb?

  1. His constant smoking upset me. smoking seems noun because of adjective constant.
  2. Him/His constantly smoking upset me. smoking seems to be verb because of adverb constantly.
  3. Him/His smoking cigars upset me. smoking seems to be a verb because of object cigars.

"His smoking upset me." So is this smoking gerund a noun or verb? Because there is no differentiation, is it both verb and noun? Maybe it's new word category?

Also his seems to be both sometimes a subject and at other times a possessive determiner. Is that correct?

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    I think it's General Reference that a gerund is an English noun formed from a verb by adding -ing. And in OP's example "His smoking upset me" it's obvious smoking is a noun, since it's being used as the subject of the verb to upset. So it must be a gerund. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:30
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    Before I visited this site, I would have told you a gerund is a "noun with the force of a verb", but now I don't think that's true; and in fact, I think I once read our resident professor of English and grammar, @John Lawler, argue that a gerund is neither a noun nor a verb, but a fiction. Can't seem to find that post now, though.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:32
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    Oh, and here's a whole long thing by John on the topic of gerunds, offsite. Sufficient and high-quality material for an answer, if anyone wants to take a swing at it (not me, I don't pretend to know how to spell grammar).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:38
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    John also says I would say chickens in The catching of the chickens was hard work is just a noun, not a gerund, whence the article; but in Catching chickens was hard work, it's the verb in a gerund complement construction. Presumably he meant I would say catching..., not chickens, but his point there is an obscure level of detail not relevant to OP here. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:43
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    Sigh - This is what happens when you go on vacation. If it ends with -ing and it's got a direct object, it's a verb and therefore a gerund. If it ends with -ing and it takes an article, it's a noun and therefore not a gerund. A Gerund is a construction using the -ing form of the verb. It's the verb of a certain type of subordinate clause (a "gerund clause" or "gerund phrase") that appears in some constructions, usually governed by the matrix verb, of which the gerund clause is usually the object or, less commonly, the subject. I.e, it's a noun clause; that's the confusion. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 1:53

4 Answers 4


Since you mentioned Huddleston and Pullum, this answer will be based on the terminology that they use. Huddleston and Pullum use the term "gerund-participle" instead of "gerund" because they reject the traditional distinction between gerunds and present participles.

The gerund-participle is a verb form. It is not a noun. A clause headed by a gerund-participle can be used like a noun phrase (NP) in that it can function as the subject of a clause, or the complement of a verb or of a preposition.

Words ending in -ing can belong to various parts of speech: they can be

  • verbs (in the gerund-participle form)

  • nouns (deverbal nouns such as "building" or "thinking" in "a building" or "good thinking")

  • adjectives (deverbal/departicipial adjectives such as "exciting" in "very exciting")

  • prepositions (e.g. "during" in "I worked for a number of years, during which I met many different kinds of people")

Sometimes words of different categories can be used in the same kind of grammatical context. For example, in the context "It is ____", the blank space could be filled with a verb in the gerund-participle form, or it could be filled with an adjective. The fact that a gerund-participle clause can be used the same contexts as a noun phrase does not mean that a gerund "is a noun". See Araucaria's answer to "How can I prove a word is a noun?" for more detailed discussion of this point.

Of course, there are different approaches to grammar. There may be some definitions of "noun" for which it makes sense to categorize a gerund as a noun, but it's not a noun according to Huddleston and Pullum's definition.

  • A scholarly use of CGEL. So good to see. Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 16:27

I'm a bit astonished about the long discussions in the post How can I prove a word is a noun? I admit that there a certain problems, especially with gerunds.

  • Smoking cigarettes is unhealty.

In this example, containing a gerund with an object, it is indeed a bit difficult to say to which word class "smoking" belongs. Is it a noun or a verb?

Traditionally the gerund is seen as a verb form with a double nature. It can behave as a noun and as a verb.

I think it would be practical to see the gerund also as a special word class, a noun-verb thing. In this way we could avoid a lot of problems that arise about the word class noun when we come across gerunds with objects.

My question: Would it be practical to see gerunds as a word class of its own?

  • Are you making up your own grammar of today's standard English?
    – F.E.
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 9:23
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    Why don't you post that as a question? It would give us some interesting posts!!! Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 11:16
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    @F.E. - Yes, I do have my own grammar because it must fit for a whole group of languages and because the traditional description of language is in my view cumbersome, to say the least. But that is my private affair und I don't use my grammar notation here. - But seeing the endless discussions about the definition of a noun and a simple checking procedure that all center around gerunds I find it reasonable to separate the gerund problem from the word class noun and see it as a separate word class. Grammar is in constant movement. And by the way, it was a question or a suggestion.
    – rogermue
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 15:23
  • "Smoking cigarettes is unhealthy." When you ask is "smoking" a noun or a verb, why do you call it a gerund if a gerund is supposed to be a noun? I would call that form of word the present participle, that would allow for both, but doesn't specify one or the other.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 17:13

His/Him are not interchangeable here.

His is possessive. The following are all nouns, and smoking is a gerund because it is a noun formed from a verb by adding 'ing':

His smoking upset me.
His attitude annoyed me.
His thoughtfulness pleased me.

It's like a trait or quality that he has, the fact that he smokes.

On the other hand Him smoking upset me means that it was the 'doing' part of smoking which was upsetting.

Him [sitting there] smoking [while I had the children with me] upset me.

So here I would say it was a verb. I don't know what part of grammar him is here, but there are lots of very knowledgeable people on this site who probably know.

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    I'm sorry but I think this is not correct. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 15:11
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    @TheBeeferFan Would you like to explain why?
    – Mynamite
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 16:01
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    I am sorry my friend. Acording to grammar book Pullum and Huddlestone, in non-finite participial clauses there is choice of his (genitive) or him (accusative) for subject of this clause. So we can say "Him smoking upset me." or "His smoking upset me." So his and him are interchangeable. genitive is more formal. Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 13:06
  • @TheBeeferFan I agree that both words can be used, but they are not interchangeable, they mean different things as I tried to explain in my answer. How can a genitive be used in the same way as an accusative? 'This is his coat.' 'This is him coat'. It doesn't work. So you can say 'Him constantly smoking upset me' (accusative/adverb/verb) but this would have to be 'His constant smoking upset me' (genitive/adjective/gerund noun).
    – Mynamite
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 16:08
  • @Mynamite But actual usage doesn't back up your claim there, it seems to me. The theory has to fit the actual usage, not the other way around ... :) Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 12:27

Using old-school terminology I'd say that not every verb ending with -ing is a gerund.

  1. His constant smoking upset me. 'smoking' is a deverbal noun
  2. His constantly smoking upset me. 'smoking' is a gerund
  3. Him smoking cigars upset me. 'smoking' is present participl.

Thus we have gerund in one case only.

  • You're right that deverbal nouns exist, like in several readings of the same book, but how do you explain using him as the sentence subject if the third one is a participle? You cannot. Therefore him is merely the subject of the non finite clause, not of the finite one as that is forbidden. There is no participle the way there arguable is when you've got a smoldering campfire smoking after a wind kicks it up.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 19:04

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