I'm confused as to the part of speech the word "talking" belongs to in the following sentence.

"Paula felt much calmer after talking to her grandmother."

Is it a verb or a gerund or something else?

  • After a preposition such as after the ing-form is a gerund , which has verbal and noun character.
    – rogermue
    Feb 20, 2016 at 4:51

4 Answers 4


In the example

"Paula felt much calmer after talking to her grandmother."

"talking" is a gerund. Gerunds are verbs within their own constituents, i.e., "downstairs", but they are nouns "upstairs", since they are heads of a noun phrase. Here, "talking" is a verb taking "to her grandmother" as complement. You can tell it's a verb from the absence of a preceding article ("a talking ...") and from the fact that it could be modified by an adverb, e.g., "quickly talking to her grandmother". If "talking" were a noun, it could only be modified by an adjective, not an adverb (as in "a quick talking").

However, looking upstairs at what part "talking to her grandmother" plays in the entire construction, evidently this phrase is the object of the preposition "after". A simple noun phrase could stand in this position: "Paula felt much calmer after lunch." So, since the head of a noun phrase is a noun, we can identify "talking" as an upstairs noun. "Talking to her grandmother" is a nominalization of a sentence "she talked to her grandmother". That is why we could also have a perfect tense here, because it is a logical past tense, and past tenses get shifted to perfects in non-finite verbs: "Paula felt much calmer after having talked to her grandmother."

Such cases where there is a mismatch between the upstairs part of speech and the downstairs part of speech are generally puzzling for traditional grammarians, because they think of the part of speech as being an inherent property of a word.

Gerunds are upstairs nouns but downstairs verbs. Participles are upstairs adjectives but downstairs verbs.

  • "Upstairs" tells us about the function, "downstairs" is what it's made of. Dec 9, 2015 at 1:07
  • Well, but when you say "what it's made of", what's the "it"? Here, the "it" is the sentence "She talked to her grandmother" (the "it" is not "talking"). This is why I prefer "upstairs/downstairs" to McCawley's terms "external/internal". When you're downstairs, you can look around and see other stuff on the same floor.
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 9, 2015 at 1:50
  • 'After' is still a subordinate conjunction in the sentence. It is only a preposition when it means 'next in line'.
    – AmI
    Dec 11, 2015 at 20:17
  • @AmI, Do you have evidence from English for this? Or are you just repeating something someone else once said or wrote?
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 11, 2015 at 20:40
  • Do people explain downvotes here on English SE?
    – Brian Tung
    Dec 12, 2015 at 0:53

"+ ing" construction of verbs is required to make: 1) present participle, 2) gerund and 3) verbal noun. Present participles are used in formation of tenses conveying tense oriented sense only. When used alone, present participles embody the qualities of both verb and adjective.

Gerund is a verbal noun (+ing form) may be used as a subject or object of a verb or object to a preposition. We call '-ing' form verbal noun if preceded by ' the' and followed by 'of' and the sense it embibes is predominantly noun- like. So all verbal nouns are not gerund.

In the instant example, "talking" is a gerund being object of the preposition "after". As 'talking' is born out of verb it takes 'to' and all that follows.


It is a verb participle. The un-elided version near 'talking' is: ...'after [she] [was] talking'... The subject of the conjuncted clause can be assumed [Paula], and the verb [be], and the tense [did] {from felt = did feel}. // That answer got too many comments, so I'll add: 'talking' appeared without an auxiliary verb, so it looks like a gerund, but a gerund is not an action; it is the concept of the action. English tries to avoid multiple morphemes on a word, so the progressive becomes a verb by adding a form of 'be'. Any verb becomes a concept by adding the infinitive marker 'to'. The sentence in question did not mean ...'after [to be] talking'...

  • 4
    Except that Paula felt much calmer after she was talking to her grandmother sounds nonsensical. I've always taken it to be a gerund, being the object of the preposition after. A participial construction would be Paula felt much calmer, having talked to her grandmother.
    – Anonym
    Dec 7, 2015 at 20:02
  • 2
    @Anonym In trad gram, "talking" would be considered a gerund on the grounds that it is complement to the prep "after". But that ignores the fact that "talking" is clearly functioning as a verb here, as demonstrated by its ability to take an NP complement as in "talking nonsense". Nouns don't take objects! CGEL doesn't distinguish between the two uses, and simply calls the -ing forms gerund-participles.
    – BillJ
    Dec 7, 2015 at 20:30
  • 1
    @BillJ A gerund is a form which acts simultaneously as a verb and a noun, just as a participle is a form which acts simultaneously as a verb and as an adjective. Dec 7, 2015 at 20:36
  • @StoneyB But surely a word can't belong to two parts of speech at the same time? And how is "talking" in "after talking to her grandmother" behaving 'simultaneously' like a noun?
    – BillJ
    Dec 7, 2015 at 20:42
  • 1
    We've looked at Aarts' overview of the ing-forms on the noun - verb continuum-or-is-it before. He says that grammarians fall into 3 camps: (a) those who say all such individual usages can be labelled as either N or V, depending on which prototype they are closer to (though this itself can cause arguments); (b) those who say that some individual usages may be both noun and verb at the same time; (c) those who say that some usages are on a N - V gradience, and are intermediate between noun and verb. Forced perhaps arbitrarily into a class, in two classes at the same time, or in neither class. Dec 7, 2015 at 21:06

'Gerund' (to carry on) and 'gerundive' (to be performed) are terms from Latin. They don't have a direct correspondence to English, but 'gerund' refers to the concept of an action, as opposed to a particular instance of that action. In 'Sally was talking to her mom', 'was' gives the tense and 'talking' gives the action and its aspect. This 'talking' is a verb under the subject 'Sally'. In 'Talking to your mom is good', 'talking' is the subject and is a noun and therefore a gerund. In '... after talking to her mom', 'talking' is most likely a particular instance and not a general concept. The same is true of the adverbial in: 'Sally, talking to her mom, started to cry'. It is a matter of deciding whether the words "to be" can be inserted before the 'participle'; if so then it is a gerund.

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