Let's consider the example sentence

Alice's trying to frame him had left Bob wary of anything she might do or say in his presence.

If I now wanted to express that Alice allegedly tried to frame him, would I insert it as an adjective or an adverb?

Put differently: is "trying", in this case, considered a noun or a verb?

Personally, I'm thinking it would make sense for it to be a noun, s.th. the sentence would end up being

Alice's alleged trying to frame him [...]

And though I cannot help but feel this sounds wrong, I can produce no good reason why I should use an adverb with "trying", here.

  • 1
    Alice allegedly tried to frame him and it left Bob... Why not separate the clauses?
    – user140086
    Feb 28, 2016 at 12:34
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    @Rathony That's not the problem -- so that's not a solution.
    – Kris
    Feb 28, 2016 at 12:37
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    @Kris True. That's why it is a comment.
    – user140086
    Feb 28, 2016 at 12:38
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    Is the gerund necessary? What happens if you substitute a noun - "attempt"?
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 28, 2016 at 12:39
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    I think it's just that with five semantically-distinct components, the entire noun phrase is too "top heavy". Don't forget that the reader is required to know that even when he finally gets to the end of the NP sequence, it's only going to be the subject of some statement. Since the reader only has finite "parsing capacity", he's not really going to appreciate having to deal with such a "deep" structure before he's even got to the meat of the sentence. Feb 28, 2016 at 14:35

3 Answers 3


It could be either one, depending on whether "trying" is a noun (then you use "alleged") or a gerund, which is a verb form (then you use "allegedly"). This is because adverbs can't modify nouns, and adjectives can't modify verbs. The ambiguity of structure arises because "-ing" has multiple uses in English, and here, we might be dealing with the "-ing" that derives nouns from verbs or the "-ing" that accompanies gerunds, which are verbs.

Some English speakers might not accept the adjective "alleged" here, because they could be missing a lexical noun "trying". This is a difference between inflectional endings, like the ending in the gerund (which does not change the part of speech), and the derivational ending in the noun "trying". Derivational forms are not basic to the structure of the language -- individuals may differ in whether they are acquainted with specific words in the lexicon.

What is going on is clarified if we change the example so that "trying" has a direct object, since nouns do not take direct objects:

Alice's trying ice cream had left Bob wary of any gourmet foods she might suggest.

Now, you can't use the adjective "alleged".

  • Sorry, but isn't "to frame him" the object (i.e., what Alice is trying)?
    – Egox
    Feb 29, 2016 at 1:17
  • @Egox, Are you asking about the verb "trying" or about the noun "trying"?
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 29, 2016 at 1:29
  • Can't an adverb modify an infinitive that is used as a noun? Star-fleet's directive is to boldly go where no man has gone before.
    – CDM
    Feb 29, 2016 at 16:01
  • @ChongDogMillionaire Yes. In the example, allegedly does not modify the infinitive to frame him, but rather the gerund.
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 29, 2016 at 19:43

Trying is definitely a noun, indeed the subject of your sentence, and it happens to be a GERUND:

1: verbal noun in Latin that expresses generalized or uncompleted action

2: any of several linguistic forms analogous to the Latin gerund in languages other than Latin; especially: the English verbal noun ending in -ing that has the function of a substantive and at the same time shows the verbal features of tense, voice, and capacity to take adverbial qualifiers and to govern objects

Emphases mine.

However, a question remains as to whether or not having the capacity to take adverbial qualifiers means that gerunds cannot (technically) take adjectival qualifiers.

In either case, as per the comments above, many might prefer to restructure the sentence. For example:

The allegation that Alice had tried to frame him....


Alice allegedly having tried to frame him....

The plain fact is that "Alice's allegedly trying" is an inelegant construction.


It a gerund. Gerunds are called double parts of speech — verb within, noun without. They inherit the function of mother-verbs and discharge the functions of nouns in their new avatar. The possessive modifier is the first test that it is a noun now.They are qualified by adjectives (being nouns) and can be modified by adverbs (being verbs)

• Romances provide pleasant reading (adj)

•The teacher summarily rejects indiscriminately flogging.(adv)

In our case –

1) Alice's alleged trying...

2) Allegedly Alice's trying...

  • Wouldn't "Allegedly Alice's trying..." change the meaning of the sentence and imply we're not sure about Bob's being wary? (Granted, I'd have written that with a comma, but ...)
    – User1291
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:01
  • Syntax is my concern, semantics yours. What I mean is that adj.and adv. can fit equally. Mar 10, 2016 at 19:14

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