I'm a non-native English speaker and have recently come across a phrase, also written by a non-native English speaker, that puzzled me:

Automatic creating tasks

(this is the name of a software feature that creates multiple tasks based on some pre-defined values (you don't have to manually create each of them))

It seems 100% incorrect, but I can't figure out why. Or is it me who is incorrect thinking the prase is wrong? Can someone give me a hint?

My suggestion is that the gerund can't be modified by an adjective and followed by a noun...

  • Are "creating tasks" a type of task that are created automatically?
    – tylerharms
    Apr 6 '15 at 11:00
  • No, it is a function that creates tasks automatically, e.g. you click a button, and a series of tasks is created based on some pre-defined values.
    – PassingBy
    Apr 6 '15 at 11:03
  • Why would you expect a phrase "written by a non-native English speaker" to make any sense?
    – Robusto
    Apr 6 '15 at 11:07
  • In that case, you are best off recasting the sentence to avoid confusion. Using the adjective in this construction sounds strange not because it's ungrammatical (see: "incomplete passing plays", "cold running water"), but because it causes the reader to read "creating tasks" as a noun phrase, which sounds unnatural.
    – tylerharms
    Apr 6 '15 at 11:14
  • Would 'Autimatic cresting tusks' be 170% incorrect? Apr 6 '15 at 14:03

The gerund can't be modified by an adjective (use an adverb for that), but it can be followed by a noun. So this should be either

automatically creating tasks


automatic creation of tasks

  • 1
    What if "creating tasks" is meant to be taken as a noun phrase, as opposed to "deleting tasks"? You'd want to specify that creating tasks occur automatically and not that the creation of (all) tasks occur automatically.
    – tylerharms
    Apr 6 '15 at 10:59
  • Glorfindel, so, "His hard working", for example, is incorrect?
    – PassingBy
    Apr 6 '15 at 11:01
  • @PassingBy: hard is an adverb there, but it's one that comes after verbs, so it should be his working hard. (Although his hard working might be marginally acceptable.) Note the difference between "he works hard" and "he hardly works". Apr 6 '15 at 11:06
  • @PeterShor What if "hard" was an adjective here? Or, say, "His persistent working", that would be incorect because gerund cannot follow adjectives, right?
    – PassingBy
    Apr 6 '15 at 12:54
  • 1
    @PassingBy: gerunds with direct objects cannot follow adjectives. So automatic targeting is fine, and targeting cancer cells is fine, but *automatic targeting cancer cells is incorrect. You have to use automatic targeting of cancer cells or automatically targeting cancer cells. Apr 6 '15 at 13:11

Yes, that is wrong.

This is a proper alternative:

"the automated creation of" [tasks]

See examples of it at Google Books.

"the automatic creation of" [tasks]

is also correct and more frequent.

Other possibilities:

"the automated task creation"

"the automatic task creation"

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