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Today in class a student was reading the title of an article for group discussion: "Just googling it is bad for your brain." http://qz.com/519155/just-googling-it-is-bad-for-your-brain/

The student read it thus: "Just googling....it is bad for your brain."

Several students looked up at me, then one said "Teacher, should we read this without making the break?"

I responded, "That's how I would read it, but perhaps there is another interpretation. Let me find out."

What kind of expression is "googling it."? I want to say that this is a kind of imperative but imperatives don't usually use the "ing" form. "Just do it." *"just doing it." But "(You) Just googling it is bad for your brain." doesn't sound incorrect to my ear.

To me it makes sense that "Just googling it" is a complete subject and that "is bad for your brain" is the complete predicate. But in speech, one could break the sentence with a pause and say "Just Googling...it's bad for your brain." (sounds like an advertising slogan.)

My questions: 1) What kind of expression is "googling it," and how is it being used in the sentence, and 2) Can the sentence be split into two as the student did? (I know; in speech you can say whatever you want but that's not the spirit of the question.)

  • Consider a similar phrase: "Just asking stackexchange is bad for your brain." Is it more clear when I use a word (asking) that's not such a recent inventioin as googling? – The Photon Oct 17 '15 at 5:55
  • FYI: gerund. – The Photon Oct 17 '15 at 5:56
  • @ThePhoton Well, it looks like a gerund but maybe it's not. Maybe it's a participle and part of a participle phrase, as in "Writing it is the best way to remember it." Btw, funny use of stackexchange. – michael_timofeev Oct 17 '15 at 6:02
  • If it's written without a comma or ellipses I think I'd just about always read it as a gerund (with no pause). To express the student's version in writing, I think you need some punctuation (comma, period, ellipses) between googling and it. – The Photon Oct 17 '15 at 6:06
  • @ThePhoton I agree. I would use a dash: "Just Googling--it is..." But is "Google it" an expression that can be split up? – michael_timofeev Oct 17 '15 at 6:08
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Regard the following sentence:

  • Bob's a mighty fine guy.

The Subject of this sentence, clearly, is Bob. Now consider this one:

  • Bob, he's a mighty fine guy.

Here Bob has been shunted to the left of the clause. The word Bob is now like an announcement of the topic of the rest of the sentence. This is known as a left dislocation. Some constituent of the sentence has been dislocated to the left of the nucleus of the clause and then a co-referential pronoun, he, has been used to plug that gap. The grammatical Subject of this clause is now the word he.

Left disclocated elements do not always represent Subjects. Consider the following joke:

  • Men, you can't live with them and you can't kill them.

Here men is coreferential with the object of the preposition with. Again, it announces the topic of the sentence.

We can also have right dislocations too:

  • He's a nice guy, Bob.

Here the Subject has been dislocated to the right of the clause. Right disclocations tend to affirm the identity of some co-referential element in the sentence, in this case the pronoun he.

The Original Poster's example

  1. Just Googling it is bad for your brain
  2. Just Googling, it is bad for your brain

In sentence (1) the grammatical Subject of the sentence is the clause Just googling it. We can show that this is the Subject by turning the sentence into a question:

  • Is [just Googling it] bad for your brain?

Here just Googling it has inverted with the auxiliary verb is. Subject-auxiliary inversion is how we mark interrogative matrix clauses in English. This test is very reliable for determining Subjects. One thing to note, at this point, is that the grammatical function of the word it is Direct Object of the verb Googling within the embedded clause.

The Original Poster's student read this title and interpreted it as sentence (2). Sentence (2) involves a left diclocation. Here, the gerund participle clause Just Googling is a dislocated subject, which has been shunted to the left of the clause proper. It represents the topic of the clause. Taking its place is the pronoun it. The Subject of the clause is this word it, not the dislocated element just Googling. The phrases just googling and it are two entirely separate grammatical entities here unlike in sentence (1).

We can show that the word it is the Subject here by doing the same test we did with the first sentence:

  • Just Googling, is [it] bad for your brain?

Here we can see that is has inverted with it.

Conclusion

The actual title is as shown in sentence (1). There are several reasons for thinking this. The first is the lack of a comma after Googling. However, comma usage is quite subjective nowadays, and in addition, this phrase is a title or headline, so we might expect the comma to be left out here.

The other clue is the word just. It doesn't seem to be very effective here if this is a left dislocation. It would make the dislocated subject less dramatic, not more so. Presumably, the motivation for using a left dislocation here would be to make the title more snappy. Lastly, after you read the article, it becomes clear that it is arguing that if one just Googles it, instead of trying to remember it, this is bad for ones memory. The killer piece of evidence, however, is that the title of this article, which has been published on several websites, is normally punctuated like this:

  • "Just Googling it" is bad for your brain.

This seems to show very clearly that "Just Googling it" should be considered one phrase here.

In answer to the Original Poster's first question, the phrase just Googling (it) is a gerund-participle clause. In sentence (1) it is the Subject of the sentence. In sentence (2) it represents a dislocated subject.

Regarding the second question, we can indeed use left dislocation. It is more common in speech and in informal writing. Titles and headlines, however, are somewhere where we might expect to see them even in more formal genres. Within the body of a text, we would usually expect the dislocated element to be followed by a comma.

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    Nice work. Thank you for taking the time. I learned something. Where do you teach? – michael_timofeev Oct 17 '15 at 16:08
  • @michael_timofeev Thanks! I teach in a language school in London. You? – Araucaria Oct 17 '15 at 16:09
  • I'm in Taiwan. Btw, that article produced 90 minutes of quality discussion time today. – michael_timofeev Oct 17 '15 at 16:11
  • Yes, it's a good find. I might use it myself! Perhaps you could put a link to it in your question? – Araucaria Oct 17 '15 at 16:17
  • done. I've used this bbc.com/news/business-29356627 for a year with very positive results. The only expression to teach is draconian...the rest is easy and is suitable for almost all levels. – michael_timofeev Oct 17 '15 at 16:24
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The two versions mean slightly different things. Without a pause:

Just googling it is bad for your brain

means that if you have some topic to research (the "it" that's the object of the gerund), then simply relying on a search engine's idea of what's important is a bad idea. With the pause:

Just googling -- it is bad for your brain

means that relying solely on a search engine for your intellectual pursuits is a bad idea. Don't neglect, for example, reading, going to the movies, or talking to informed people.

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It depends on how you define the verb google as the object "it" will be considered redundant (unnecessary) if google can be used as an intransitive verb which doesn't require an object.

[Google] is defined as a transitive verb in Merriam-Webster:

transitive verb: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web

However, it has an example where google is used as an intransitive verb.

Then where are they going, if not to Faulkner and Achebe and Naipaul? … To the movies; to television (hours and hours); to Googling obsessively (hours and hours); to blogging and emailing and text messaging… . —Cynthia Ozick, Harper's, April 2007

Regarding your questions:

  1. "Googling it" is called a gerund phrase and it is used as a subject.

  2. Of course, it can be split into two. However, in order to prevent such confusion (googling it vs googling as a subject) in the context, it is more appropriate to use "everything" in place of "it" as "it" is a pronoun whose primary function is to replace a noun which is used before "it".

Just googling, it is very bad for your brain.

Conclusion: It is better to put a comma between googling and it to show there is a short pause and google is used as an intransitive verb. Otherwise, it is more likely that googling it is understood as a subjective gerund phrase.

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