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I am working with a local government system into which people submit proposals to modify real estate and the phrasing they use is sometimes somewhat odd e.g.:

  1. Demolishing and rebuilding house.
  2. Demolition and rebuild of house.
  3. To demolish and rebuild house.

As far as I know 'to demolish' in infinitive form no. 3, a noun in no. 2 but I find no. 1 somewhat confusing as most of the grammar examples online use conversational speech, is it a gerund or perhaps something else please?

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  • Hello, Pocketsand, and welcome to English Language & Usage. You may find the answers at Gerund ending in -ings? helpful in sorting out the words that you ask about here.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 21:40
  • Hi Sven, thanks for the welcome. Unfortunately those examples also use conversational English whereas in my example I think the English is almost corrupt for the sake of brevity so it is still somewhat confusing to me.
    – Pocketsand
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:11
  • Your examples do use the peculiar telegraphic style that drops out definite and indefinite articles. I would read each of them as if it were a title or headline, with the word a (or the) inserted before house in each case. That would yield these wordings: "Demolishing and rebuilding a house," "Demolition and rebuild of a house," and "To demolish and rebuild a house." But perhaps performing this operation doesn't help you grasp the sense of the first example any better?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:19
  • Thanks. That makes perfect sense and I am glad to learn that the style has a name. With regard to the fist example, if I understand correctly, I think tchist's answer helps and would classify 'demolishing' in the first example as a deverbal noun. I.e. form field request "[Please enter your] proposal:", form field response "[The] demolishing and rebuilding [of our] house".
    – Pocketsand
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 15:54

2 Answers 2

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Here are the three scenarios you appear to be talking about, albeit slightly reordered to collect like things together and slightly reworded to produce grammatical English and highlight differences.

Notice that everything in each sentence starting from the verb of the main clause is identical; that part is on a second line set in roman. The subject of each sentence is in italic, and the distinguishing features within it are in bold.


1. A Verb Study: The Gerund Clause as Subject

This is a verb because it takes because it takes the normal elements of a verb phrase like adverbial modifiers and object complements:

  • Quickly demolishing and rebuilding their house
    was the couple’s best option as this point.

Quickly is an adverb and their house is the direct object of both verbs connected by the coordinating conjunction and.

2. Another Verb Study: The Infinitive Clause as Subject

This is also a verb for the same reasons just given for the gerund:

  • To quickly demolish and rebuild their house
    was the couple’s best option as this point.

Here again, quickly is an adverb — and their house is the direct object of both verbs connected by the coordinating conjunction and. It needs no preposition and tolerates none.

3. A Noun Study: The Deverbal Noun as Subject

This is no longer a verb but a noun, because it takes the normal elements of a noun phrase such as articles, adjectival modifiers, and prepositional phrases:

  • The quick demolishing and rebuilding of their house
    was the couple’s best option as this point.

Here the is an article, quick is an adjective, and of their house is a prepositional phrase that applies to the two nouns connected by the coordinating conjunction and.


Summary

Infinitives and gerunds are still verbs, because they pass verb tests, whereas deverbal nouns fail those test but pass noun tests.

Gerunds, to-infinitives, and deverbal nouns can all serve as the sentence subject but only the first two are verbs; the third is a noun — as its name should suggest.

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  • The OED defines a gerund as A form of the Latin vb. capable of being construed as a n., but retaining the regimen of the vb which seems to confirm precisely what you have just said. Of course example 3 could equally be rendered as The quick demolition and reconstruction of their house was...
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:43
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A gerund functions as a noun. To use the gerunds correctly you would have to say "The demolishing and rebuilding of the house."

I think this is really an abbreviation of the future continuous tense of the verbs - "[The proposal is that we will be] demolishing and rebuilding [the] house". or "...we are going to be demolishing..."

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  • English verbs have no “future continuous tense”.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 21:56
  • @Tchrist so what us this, exactly? englishpage.com/verbpage/futurecontinuous.html. You can quibble about the name, but there is nothing wrong with the English construction.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 21:57
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    What you have mistakenly called gerunds are merely deverbal nouns: you can tell because of the article and the prepositional phrase. An actual gerund acts as a verb inside of its own clause and as a noun only outside of it as a constituent.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:24
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    If it's a real gerund, it can have a direct object. No need for a preposition unless the verb requires it. Gerunds are verbs; gerund clauses can be used as nouns, but gerunds are untensed verbs. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:25
  • Fair enough. Apparently, English grammar has been rewritten since I was taught it in the middle of the previous century.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 22:43

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