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I and my friend have started examining sentences to recognise parts of speech in them. In our discourse, we could not agree on the point that "naming" in the below sentence is a verb.

The White House website, without naming China, promises “to use every tool at the federal government’s disposal” to end trade abuses.

Can you please help in explaining if "naming" is used as a verb or if it is a different part of speech?

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    It's a gerund-participle verb heading the gerund-participial clause "naming China" which is functioning as complement of the preposition "without". It's clearly a verb since it has the noun "China" as its direct object. – BillJ Feb 6 '17 at 14:44
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    @BillJ I think that is a valid answer, please post it. – NVZ Feb 6 '17 at 14:48
  • The "primary" verb is obviously promises, and I'd have to say naming isn't exactly much of a verb. Sure, you could replace it with a different gerund/noun, such as without warning (feasibly with an "object", as in without warning anyone), but since the syntax would be exactly the same with an "ordinary" noun such as without fanfare, it's not obvious to me that categorisation as a "verb" is particularly useful. – FumbleFingers Feb 6 '17 at 15:00
  • owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/627/02 .In Purdue lab it does not say that participles can be used as verbs, doesn't they – user2849789 Feb 6 '17 at 15:07
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    @FumbleFingers There is a good reason, in fact, if you look at it closely. It tells you how you can modify it. Note the ungrammatical "without the sepcific naming China", showing that naming is not a noun here. – Araucaria Feb 6 '17 at 16:04
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Verbs often take Direct Objects. Nouns never do. Instead, the semantically comparable string must appear within a preposition phrase, usually one using the preposition of:

  • they massacre [the civilians] (verb massacre taking direct object)
  • the massacre [of the civilians] (noun massacre taking an of preposition phrase)

Verbs can be premodified by adverbs. Nouns never can. Nouns can be premodified by adjectives. Verbs never can:

  • the gentle sway
  • *the gently sway (adverb premodifying noun - ungrammatical)
  • gently swayed
  • *gentle swayed (adjective premodifying verb - ungrammatical)

The Original Poster's example

The White House website, without naming China, promises to ...

Here we see China appearing as the Direct Object of the verb naming. Notice that we cannot put China within an of-preposition phrase here:

  • *The White House website, without naming of China, promises to ... (ungrammatical)

We can further see that if we want to premodify the word naming we must use an adverb. We cannot use an adjective:

  • without directly naming China (adverb directly)
  • *without direct naming China (adjective direct - ungrammatical)

This data shows that the word naming is a verb in the Original Poster's example, not an adjective.

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