How would you describe the bolded words here? They don't intuitively seem like present participles to me, but I might be wrong.

List X can be created by appending the contents of List B to List A.


List Y is the result of sorting List X.


  • The take the plain form of the verbs (append and sort) and add the suffix -ing. So why don't they "seem" like present participles? In both cases they act as objects (of the prepositions by and of respectively), so we call them gerunds to indicate that the play the same role that noun phrases do. – deadrat Jan 24 '16 at 8:34
  • My understanding is that gerunds act like nouns, and present participles act like adjectives. These words, in context, don't seem like nouns or adjectives to me. They still seem like some sort of verb. Is this just a failure of my intuition? – jtbandes Jan 24 '16 at 8:36
  • Intuition isn't much help with nomenclature. A present participle is an English verb form = plain form + -ing. Present participles have different uses in a sentence including forming the progressive aspect of tenses, acting like noun phrases, and acting as modifiers. When they act like nouns as subjects, objects, or complements, we call them gerunds; when they act like modifiers, we call them participial adjectives. But they still have some characteristics of verbs, e.g., they describe actions and states, and they can take objects (contents and List X, above). Which nouns don't do. – deadrat Jan 24 '16 at 8:49
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    @jtbandes Trad grammar calls them 'gerunds' (verb forms functionally similar to nouns). Here, "appending" and "sorting" are the heads of clauses functioning as complements to the preps "by and "of", a role typically performed by nouns, hence them being called 'gerunds'. But they're not nouns here; they're transitive verbs, they have objects ("the contents ..." and "List x"). As has been pointed out, CGEL calls them gerund-participles for the simple reason that there is no worthwhile distinction to be made between the ing participle and the ing gerund forms. – BillJ Jan 24 '16 at 9:29
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    It's been asked at least a couple times before. .e.g. english.stackexchange.com/questions/170336/… – Blessed Geek Jan 24 '16 at 10:20

These are verbs heading clauses, which in turn are functioning as the Complements of prepositions. In traditional grammar (where we don't distinguish carefully between what something is and what it is doing), these are called gerunds. This is just because we normally see phrases headed by nouns doing the job of being the Complement of a preposition. So-called gerunds are the Heads of clauses which are doing jobs often done by phrases headed by nouns.

Of course calling something a gerund doesn't tell you about what it's made of or which specific job it is doing. It's just a fudge that has been being used for many years.

Now when these forms of these verbs do a different job, like being a Modifier in a clause or noun phrase, or being the Complement of a verb, we call them participles in traditional grammar. Of course, calling something a participle doesn't tell you about what it's made of or which specific job it is doing. This is also a fudge.

In many modern grammars they decided to try and distinguish between what a thing is and the job it is doing. In these grammars these verb forms are called gerund-participles. It is recognised that these verbs can head clauses which do different types of jobs. We can describe the jobs that they are doing by calling them Subjects or Complements of prepositions or Modifiers in a noun phrase and so forth.

The Original Poster notes in the comments that these words do not seem like adjectives or nouns. The Original Poster is completely correct, they are verbs. In these sentences these phrases are doing a job often done by noun phrases; they are being Complements of prepositions. In traditional grammar, we would therefore say they are gerunds. Note that this does not mean that these words are nouns, they are still verbs. Note that they have Direct Objects. Verbs have Direct Objects, nouns never do.

In modern grammars they would be recognised as verbs Heading a clause. These clauses are the Complements of prepositions.

  • Hi, Aracauria, If sleeping's in sleeping bag and sleeping baby are both gerund-participles, how can we know which is what? The former is a modifier and the latter is a modifier, too in a sense. Then, we call both of them modifiers? Don't you think it is more appropriate to call the latter a present participle instead of gerund-participle? – user140086 Jan 24 '16 at 18:29
  • @Rathony To be very strict about the grammar, when it gets down to this level of detail about noun phrases, the sleeping in sleeping bag would be seen as a Complement of the noun and the two words would therefore be regarded as a compound noun. In sleeping baby it would be an attributive Modifier and sleeping baby would not be regarded as any type of compound noun. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 24 '16 at 19:35
  • @Rathony Also, I'm not sure for certain that sleeping is a verb there ... But good question. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 27 '16 at 1:06
  1. List X can be created by appending the contents of List B to List A.
  2. List Y is the result of sorting List X.

Both of the constructions are gerund complement clauses;
that is, the clauses have verbs with an -ing form, and they are functioning as noun phrases.

For example, (1) is a Passive transform of

  • [Appending the contents of List B to List A] can create list X.

where the bracketed clause is the subject of can create. Although it's only a verb phrase, it's still considered a clause, because it has an indefinite subject NP. Which is not present in this clause.
This is normal for indefinite gerund subjects; the identity of the subject NP is not important if anybody can append the contents of A and B.

(2), on the other hand, isn't a passive, but rather a nominalization. The main verb phrase is an auxiliary be plus the predicate noun phrase be the result of sorting List X. This is a nominalization of the verb result, which takes a gerund clause subject and a transitivizing preposition in.

  • [Sorting List X] results in List Y.

In both cases, arguing about a particular word is the wrong strategy. Look for the verb phrases, because every verb phrase represents a clause, and clauses are the main constituents of sentences.

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