7
  1. There's no doubting her sincerity.
  2. There's no telling what she's done.
  3. There's no guessing which way they'll bolt.
  4. There's to be no drinking beer today.
  5. There's no telling her.

The word no is usually thought of as a determinative. We expect to see it in Determiner position in noun phrases. Of course, we often see determinatives in Determiner function with deverbal nouns:

  • The reading of books is prohibited.
  • This constituted a breaking of his silence on this topic.

Notice that because the -ing forms above are nouns and not verbs, they cannot take direct objects and the phrases after them are preposition phrases. If we omit the word of the sentences are ungrammatical:

  • *The reading books is prohibited. (ungrammatical)
  • *This constituted a breaking his silence on this topic. (ungrammatical)

My questions therefore are:

  • What part of speech is the word no in examples 1-4?
  • How should we regard the syntactic function/grammatical relations of the word no in relation to the phrases it occurs in?
  • What is the syntactic function of the strings after the -ing forms. (direct object /complement?)
  • What part of speech are these -ing forms?
5
  • 1
    What part of speech is no in "There's to be no water here today"? Is that not the same as 1-4? – Andrew Leach May 17 '16 at 15:43
  • I have no idea of the name, but as a hint, I think 'The reading of books' is a noun phrase in itself. So you're not modifying a single-word gerund like 'reading' here - you're using a four-word noun phrase. Does that simplify things? – Steve Cooper May 17 '16 at 15:47
  • I don't know if it's my dialect, but I could put of in those sentences easily: There is to be no drinking of beer today. There's no doubting of her sincerity. There's no telling of what she's done. The only weird one is the last "There's no telling of her." That doesn't sound right. – Kit Z. Fox May 17 '16 at 18:56
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    @KitZ.Fox That's interesting. For me (British Eng) "drinking of beer" is the only vaguely acceptable one. – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 17 '16 at 19:04
  • @AndrewLeach Well, there's loads of reason to say just that. But then that would make no a determinative in Determiner function. Then that would make telling in 5, or drinking in 5 a noun. That should mean that these -ing forms can't take objects. They would need an of or some other preposition before the next noun phrase. – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 17 '16 at 19:07
7

I'd say that 1-4 are hybrid constructions where "no" is a determinative functioning as a determiner in construction with a gerund-participial VP head.

In 1. and 4. the post head NPs are objects, but in in 2. and 3. the post-head dependents are not NPs but interrogative complement clauses where 2. means There’s no telling the answer to the question "what has she done”? and 3. means There’s no guessing the answer to the question "which way will they bolt"?

I called them 'hybrid' constructions because the pre-head dependents are characteristic of NP structure while the post-head ones are characteristic of VP structure. They are virtually restricted to the existential construction with “there”.

5
  • Does the fact that 2 and 3 are not NPs mean they are not objects in this instance? We can have PP objects etc. If they aren't objects, what is their syntactic function do you think? I don't think being an object = being an NP. I'd understand "complement clause" for a catenative complement, for example, but I'm not sure about these instances ( ; (Oh, +1, btw). – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 17 '16 at 18:33
  • I can't see them at all as objects. As 'open' interrogatives, I'd say their syntactic function is complement of the verbs concerned, hence 'interrogative complement clause'. – BillJ May 17 '16 at 18:38
  • Hmmm. (Devil's advocating here) You can have clauses as Subject right? So why not Objects?Complement Clause sounds a bit like an underdefined Complement in general ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 17 '16 at 19:15
  • (I don't disagree with you btw, just couldn't explain in a good way why I do, which is why I'm trying to get you to tell me why I should!) – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 17 '16 at 19:29
  • 1
    Non-finite clauses are only objects when they occur in some distinctively object relation with some element other than the head verb, for example in the complex-transitive construction: This made drinking beer virtually impossible. In other instances, they're usually catenatives, as you mentioned, but here they are clearly interrogatives with no structural or semantic resemblance to objects. – BillJ May 17 '16 at 19:54
2

These are two idioms involving There-Insertion. (1-3) are examples of one idiom, (4-5) of another.

  • There's no Vcog-ing means 'No one can Vcog', where
    Vcog is a cognitive verb (doubt, tell, guess) that is the VP of a gerund complement clause.
    I.e, the NP following no in this idiom (which is an NPI, by the way) is parseable as

    • [np [s [vp Vcog-ing ... vp] s] np]
      which means that the no is an ordinary determiner of the complement NP in this idiom.
  • The other idiom is

    • There's no Vvoling, which means 'Vvoling is impossible/not customary/not allowed';
      Vvol is a volitional (hence forbiddable) activity, requiring a sapient agent subject.
      With additional syntactic gymnastics like Neg-Raising the idiom can appear as either
    • There's not to be Vvoling
      or as
    • There's to be no Vvoling
      which both mean 'Vvoling is forbidden' only. As these last two examples demonstrate,
      the no in There's to be no drinking beer is also an NP determiner, and one which is coreferential with the adverbial not of There's not to be drinking beer.

Note that there is at least one modal and one negative involved in each of these constructions, plus obligatory There-Insertion, and idiomaticity all over the place. This produces odd-looking syntax.

As for the specific questions, no is an NP determiner, as noted, modifying the outer NP of the complement clause; the various V-ing are all gerunds, the VPs of gerund complement clauses. Since they're Vs, they can have objects and all the rest, and that's what beer is, for instance.

11
  • 1
    Of course it is. If it takes a definite article, it's a noun. – John Lawler May 17 '16 at 19:21
  • 1
    Oh, sorry. Volitional. I.e, deontic interpretation, indicating 'forbidden' in this negative idiom. – John Lawler May 17 '16 at 19:25
  • 1
    Here's another one to cogitate on. He's going to put some old questions on the exam, but which ones isn't clear is grammatical; *but which ones aren't clear is ungrammatical. Ones is clearly plural, is is clearly not, but that's what's called for. And if you can get a copy, look at McCawley's "On identifying the remains of deceased clauses". – John Lawler May 17 '16 at 19:36
  • 1
    Already did, I thought. – John Lawler May 18 '16 at 0:15
  • 1
    "He's going to put some old questions on the exam, but which ones isn't clear is grammatical; but which ones aren't clear is ungrammatical" <-- That's because *which ones is a kinda deceased interrogative clause, no? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 2 '16 at 12:11
1

Taking your questions out of order:

What part of speech are these -ing forms.

They are examples of the gerund -- a verb form that functions as a noun. Note well the distinction between "functions as a noun" and "is a noun," as this bears directly on your question. Gerunds are verb forms, but there are also "verbal nouns", which often have the same lexicographic form as gerunds, but are bona fide nouns.

What is the syntactic function of the noun phrases after the -ing forms. (direct object /complement?)

Gerunds can be combined with objects or adverbials, whereas verbal nouns cannot. The noun phrases in question are objects of the gerunds.

The reason that your example "The reading books is prohibited" is ungrammatical is that gerunds do not take determiners, so one of the following must hold:

  • "reading" is interpreted as a gerund, and the presence of "the" is erroneous, or
  • "reading" is interpreted as a verbal noun, in which case it cannot have an object and the presence of two consecutive nouns is erroneous, or
  • "reading" is interpreted as a participle modifying books, and plural "books" does not agree in number with "is".

Whichever you choose, the sentence is erroneous.

Now consider these alternatives:

  • "Reading books is prohibited." This sentence can be understood only by interpreting "reading" as a gerund, with "books" as its object, because you cannot have two consecutive, independent nouns there, and, as already observed, "books" does not agree in number with "is". It is thus reading that is prohibited, at least when it is books that are read.
  • "The reading of books is prohibited." This sentence can be understood only by interpreting "reading" as a verbal noun. As a verbal form, gerunds do not take prepositional phrases or determiners, but like any other noun, verbal nouns can accept both. This has the same meaning as the previous sentence, but different grammatical form.
  • "Reading books are prohibited." This sentence can be understood only by interpreting "reading" as a participle modifying "books", because as a gerund or a verbal noun, singular "reading" does not agree in number with "are". It is thus certain books that are prohibited -- reading books, but not necessarily coloring books.

what part of speech is the word no in examples 1-4?

"No" can be used as a determiner, an adverb, or a noun (at least; Cambridge). These particular constructions are rather idiomatic, which may be why they are troubling you, but I classify the "no" in each of them as an adverb modifying the gerund.

how should we regard the syntactic function/grammatical relations of the word no in relation to the phrases it occurs in.

What?

2
  • Thanks. Hmmm. "The reason that your example "The reading books is prohibited" is ungrammatical is that therein "reading" will be understood as a participle modifying books (not a gerund), and plural "books" does not agree in number with "is". Consider, on the other hand, "Reading books is prohibited", wherein "reading" is again a gerund, with "books" as its object." <-- But whycan't we just understand "the reading books" as a gerund? After all it has a determiner which is what we expect from nouns (and you think gerunds are nouns). So why is it not acceptable as a noun? – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 17 '16 at 18:30
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    @Araucaria, you have inspired me to re-think and revise my answer. The general thrust remains the same, but some of the key particulars differ, especially where your question comes to bear. – PellMel May 17 '16 at 20:13

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