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Given the following sentences:

  1. I have even started using them in normal writing.
  2. People can understand your writing better.

Are using and writing gerunds, verbs, or some other part of speech?

Context:

I am prefixing the words in some phrases with abbreviations. Some of the words are giving me trouble in classification. (The message is supposed to be an implicit proof of why adding prefixes to table names in a database is terrible. But I'd like to get it right.)

Here's the full set of sentences for your amusement. However, please restrict your comments to the stated question, for the most part.

  1. com-Don't ver-Listen prep-To adj-Those adj-Other nou-People.
  2. pro-You aux-Should adv-Always ver-Use nou-Prefixes prep-With pro-Your adj-Table nou-Names.
  3. pro-I aux-Have adv-Even ver-Started ver-Using pro-Them prep-In adj-Normal nou-Writing.

  4. com-See adv-How adj-Effective pr-It ver-Is?

  5. nou-People aux-Can ver-Understand pro-Your nou-Writing adv-Better!

(where com means command verb)

This question is part of 3 related questions:

  1. Adjectives vs. determinatives
  2. Nouns vs. nouns used as adjectives
  3. This question

It originally came from this closed question

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  • Using is a verb in using them because it has an object, which nouns cannot take.

  • Writing is a noun in normal writing because it has an adjective, which verbs cannot take.


Because gerunds are verbs, it makes no sense to ask whether a word is “a gerund, a verb, or some other part of speech.”

A gerund is a kind of verb. It is a non-finite inflection of a verb. It does verb things, like take adverbs and arguments.

  • Quickly calling the police was the smartest thing you ever did.

The word calling is a gerund. You can see that it is obviously a verb because it has an adverb modifying it and the police as its direct object. It does not here have a subject, although it could. That subject if a pronoun would normally be the oblique form:

  • Him calling the police quickly was the smartest thing he ever did.
  • You calling the police quickly was the smartest thing you ever did.

But with a regular noun the object and subject form is the same:

  • Your mother quickly calling the police was the smartest thing she ever did.

But sometimes people use a possessive form for the subject of a gerund clause:

  • His calling the police quickly was the smartest thing he ever did.
  • Your mother’s calling the police quickly was the smartest thing she ever did.

In all cases, calling remains a verb. You cannot do noun things do it. Gerunds are verbs.

Gerund clauses, however, are themselves noun phrases, but that’s something else. You probably don’t want to call the entire constituent a “noun”, but you can certainly call it a noun phrase.

Calling a noun phrase a noun because it can be the subject of a clause just like nouns can be the subject of a clause falls into the same class of error as thinking that nouns modifying nouns are “acting as adjectives” because they are modifying nouns. Socrates would be displeased. :)

One thought: All this part-of-speech assignment and detection of higher level syntactic relations is something that folks in the NLP (natural language processing) community have been doing for a long with the field of Computational Linguistics. You probably want to use their work instead of creating your own. And honestly, this seems like a remarkable lot of work just to prove a point about how to pick names for things in a computer program.

  • Thank you for your answer. But I am not doing this work "just to prove a point about how to pick names for things in a computer program". What I'm doing is attempting to learn for my own benefit. I'm an aficionado of language, and while I don't have the time from my own career to study this deeply, I was not content that such a seemingly simple task as classifying parts of speech in a few sentences was giving me trouble. You've opened my mind to the concept of higher-level syntactic relations and I appreciate that. – ErikE Nov 15 '16 at 18:19
  • Also, I'm not trying to create my own system for assignment and detection of higher level syntactic relations--I'm just using my own wits to try to understand the world around me. There can be no legitimate criticism of that! If I have need of deeper study I will definitely seek out the natural language processing community's resources, but in the meantime I'll continue to apply my mental faculties to everything I do... – ErikE Nov 15 '16 at 18:21

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