Is a deverbal noun with at least two adjectives plural, or can it be?

An example sentence (from research regarding medical monitoring of vital signs):

Continuous and automated monitoring is...

In this example, the monitoring is both continuous and automated at the same time, i.e. it is one thing (albeit having two properties), thus the singular form is is used.

Could or should this be written as:

Continuous and automated monitoring are...


In the latter example the use of are refers to continuous monitoring and automated monitoring as being two types of monitoring, i.e. two things, thus the plural form is used.

Another example with different meaning:

Fast and slow driving is/are...

In this last example, are is probably better, because driving can't logically be both fast and slow simultaneously. This is a clear example of the subject being plural. In general however, the subject can be singular and have two or more adjectives, am I correct?

I'm not a native English speaker, but I have a feeling both situations could be used correctly. What are the differences in both semantics and grammar?

And am I correct about monitoring being a deverbal noun in this case, instead of a gerund? I've looked up what kind of word it could be and differences between verbal and deverbal nouns and I came to the conclusion it was the latter.

On a side note: can automatic be used instead of automated?


1 Answer 1


The real test for a deverbal noun is actually that it pluralises readily. It is fully nominalised. Thus

His paintings will never sell. [deverbal usage]

but not

*His paintings the wall last Wednesday and Friday was/were very kind. ['gerund' usage; does not pluralise]

Like the second instance of 'painting' here, 'monitoring' in OP's first example here is not a deverbal noun. This is a non-count usage (though I wouldn't say that the count usage is never encountered). But here, it's an ing-form near to but not at the end of the noun-verb continuum, often referred to as a gerund (which term is used in different and conflicting ways). As stated above, a true deverbal noun freely pluralises (his paintings are dreadful). And it cannot be modified by an adverb ('*his slowly paintings will never sell'; contrast '... faithfully monitoring the blood pressure ...' and 'his slowly painting the fence was annoying me'.

It could be argued that the presence of the adjective kicks the position of the ing-form nounwards, but, for deleted forms, the plural form is not available even where it might be considered logical.

'Continuous and automated monitoring is necessary ...' [singular agreement, corresponds to a doubly-modified singular subject][as OP says]

but also

'Fast and slow driving are both dangerous on this surface.' [plural agreement, but ing-form not pluralised; a deleted form of 'Fast driving and slow driving ...'. Compound subject.]

Wiktionary actually licenses the count usage of 'monitoring' (though it marks it unusual) with the obvious plural 'monitorings'. This is now a deverbal usage, and the deleted form

Automated and non-automated monitorings are carried out in this establishment.

is available.

  • Great, thanks for this elaboration. I noticed this applies to dutch (my native language) too, to a great extent. I still wonder: is it better or preferred to use is / are with two adjectives before a gerund, e.g. my first example ‘continuous and automated monitoring is / are’? Does this choice depend solely on the number of types of monitoring that are being referred to, or is one form of the two preferred? It is clear in your ‘Fast and slow driving...’ example, but not when the gerund could be one thing having multiple adjectives, i.e. features.
    – Erik
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 8:12
  • 'Continuous automated monitoring is required' = 'Continuous and automated monitoring is required' (and the first variant sounds more idiomatic). ' // 'Non-automated and automated monitoring are required' = 'Non-automated monitoring and (= as well as) automated monitoring are [both] required'. // 'Continuous and automated monitorings are required' = 'There need to be one or more episodes each of monitoring using automated and non-automated techniques.' //// I don't see 'continuous' as disjoint from 'automated' (which is why I'm changing the example), but perhaps they are in this context. Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 18:02

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