I read from TheFreeDictionary http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Gerunds.htm the examples "Studying too hastily will result in a poor grade." and "Working from home allows me to spend more time with my family." with the specification

... in this case, it is the gerund phrase that is functioning as a noun, so the gerund itself can still be modified by an adverb in the same way as a normal verb.

However, I read from some posts regarding gerunds in the current site English Language & Usage that gerunds can also be modified by adjectives.

Then, I found from the above webpage the further example "She started going crazy from so much waiting." I wonder whether "so much" here works as an adjective or adverb modifying the gerund waiting. I feel it's like both ways are OK.

In addition, I also looked up "persistent" https://www.thefreedictionary.com/persistent, finding an example which uses the adjective persistent to modifying the gerund questioning: "your persistent questioning". And then, I looked up "continual" https://www.thefreedictionary.com/continual, finding a further example of this kind: "a process that requires continual monitoring", wherein the adjective continual modifies the gerund monitoring.

Nevertheless, I have never seen an example of "gerund + object" with modifiers modifying the gerund therein, so I wonder which of adjectives and adverbs should be used to modify the gerund therein. For example, is it OK to say "With my persistent broadening the horizon of my knowledge of cosmology, my interest in it is ever growing."? Or should I say "With my persistently broadening the horizon of my knowledge of cosmology, my interest in it is ever growing."?

After some studying about gerunds, I feel real gerunds should be modified by adverbs and those terms with the form v.-ing modified by adjectives should be viewed as nouns rather than gerunds.

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    "Studying" and "working" are verbs, not nouns, and hence should be modified by adverbs.
    – BillJ
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 13:56
  • The analysis of ing-forms has not been decreed finally resolved, to my knowledge (a point Aarts spells out, though he may have changed his opinion in the last few years). Quirk et al give a gradience approach rather than deciding which constituency tests they will use to confer unequivocal labels. [Language and Context _ H L-Tarry] Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 14:13
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    @EdwinAshworth, The definitive treatment of English -ing nominals is Robert B. Lees' 1960 The grammar of English nominalizations.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 21:22
  • @BillJ -- a gerund can be a noun. ie "Studying is too hard for me." or "Working with iron is a delicate process."
    – ravery
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 0:11
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    @ravery Arrogations are out of place on ELU. The grammatical 'Brown's deftly painting his daughter is a joy to watch' means that if people aren't going to accept a gradience model they have to think up ways to prioritise POS-tagging devices. Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 0:47

2 Answers 2


Form versus Function

This is a perennial confusion, one deriving in part from different sources using the word “gerund” in conflicting and contradictory ways, some of which are based in older analyses that no longer hold, others which are simply too fuzzy for practical application. You seem to be using “gerund” to mean any old ‑ing word at all, no matter what its part of speech is. That’s going to lead to confusion.

A word like studying, waiting, broadening, questioning, or giving is a regular non-finite verbal inflection, but that only tells you the word’s form not its function. It doesn’t tell you what it’s being used for because without the grammar of a surrounding phrase and how that word fits into that phrase grammatically, it in fact isn’t being used for anything at all and so has no part of speech.


It may surprise you to learn that “gerund” isn’t so useful a term as you might think, and you don’t even need it. You’ll find that the analysis becomes far easier, both in this case and in more complex ones, if you discard the term entirely and stick strictly to parts of speech: verb, noun, adjective, adverb. If you want to discuss its broader syntactic role in the grammar as a constituent, then we use other terms for those constituents than parts of speech.

Instead, here is a simple guideline for classifying VERB-ing words into one of noun, verb, or adjective:

  1. When the ‑ing word is a VERB, it can be modified by adverbs (that aren’t actually intensifiers instead like very), but not by adjectives. It can also take objects if it’s a transitive verb:

    • “Quickly giving her the day off was the best solution.”
    • “I was carefully giving her the delicate soufflé when her phone rang.”
    • “These stickers are for quickly giving your students’ papers an attractive decoration.”
  2. When the ‑ing word is a NOUN, it can be modified by adjectives and quantifiers, but not by adverbs or intensifiers. It can often be inflected into the plural as well:

    • “Voluntary givings at churches during Christmastime are key to our global relief effort.”
    • “Any voluntary giving should be deducted from your taxes.”
    • “Here we call our donations bins our ‘giving boxes’, so please place your gifts in any of the three colorfully decorated giving boxes near the entrance.”
  3. When the ‑ing word is an ADJECTIVE, it can be modified not only by adverbs (and not by other adjectives), but also by very and related words of its class (intensifiers):

    • “She was an endlessly giving person, even after the crooks took advantage of her.”
    • “She was a very giving person to her dying day, and beyond.”

The Latin term “gerund” isn’t a very good one for English for many reasons I won’t be repeating here. The important thing to remember is that “gerund” isn’t somehow its own part of speech: an ‑ing word derived from a verb is still always going to be one of either a verb or a noun or an adjective. Sometimes these latter two are referred to as verbal or deverbal nouns or adjectives, or as participial adjectives, to show that they’ve stopped being verbs.

The only ‑ing words that are doing a “gerundial” job are those which are still verbs, not deverbal nouns, and which happen to be acting as a substantive, meaning places in the grammar where a noun phrase is required — typically when a subject or object is called for.


  • Is it better, then, to drop the idea of 'gerund' in favour of an acceptance that -ing words demonstrate a spectrum of use between verb and noun ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 16:10
  • @NigelJ, No, it's worse. *-ing" words are not between verb and noun -- that is not possible. They be either nouns or verbs, never both.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 18:48
  • In 2, I think it would be better not to say that a determiner "modifies" a noun.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 20:48
  • @GregLee You're probably right. I'm of course just trying to say it takes the regular prenominal elements of a typical NP just like any other noun.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 20:59
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    @CaptainBohemian Oh it looks like I the adverb out. Fixing. I'm sorry that you feel wronged. Some people calling things gerunds no matter whether they're nouns or verbs. A verbal noun is the old term for an -ing verb heading a gerund clause used substantively. It's a wobbly analysis that can't look at multiword constituents. A deverbal noun is an ex-verb, so just a noun now. I'd rather not call anything at all a gerund given how much confusion and even controversy the term brings. It's not a part of speech.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 21:43

To supplement the excellent answer from tchrist, I'll answer your question:

For example, is it OK to say "With my persistent broadening the horizon of my knowledge of cosmology, my interest in it is ever growing."?

No, it is not okay. "broadening" is apparently a noun here, since it is modified by the adjective "persistent" (as you recognize). But "the horizon of my knowledge of cosmology" is a NP (noun phrase) which is the direct object of "broadening". In English, nouns cannot have direct objects. This is a contradiction, because "broadening" can either be a noun or a verb, but it can't be both simultaneously.

Consequently, there are two ways of amending your example sentence: (1) change it so that "broadening" is unambiguously a noun, or (2) change it so that "broadening" is unambiguously a verb. In your discussion, you suggest (2), where the adjective "persistent" has been changed to an adverb, "persistently". Then "broadening" can be a verb modified by an adverb and taking a direct object.

Alternatively, (1), an "of" can be inserted to convert the NP "the horizon of my knowledge of cosmology" into the PP (prepositional phrase) "of the horizon of my knowledge of cosmology":

With my persistent broadening of the horizon of my knowledge of cosmology, my interest in it is ever growing.

This works, because although English nouns cannot have direct objects, they can take PP complements.

This sort of example cannot be correctly understood in traditional grammar, or in its modern offshoot dependency grammar, because it requires analysis in terms of multi-word phrases, not just a classification of words.

Footnote: By "traditional grammar" above, I mean a simple parts-of-speech analysis of the sort invented by the ancient Greeks. However, it would not cause any difficulty for the great traditional grammarians of the 20th century Otto Jespersen or Hendrick Poutsma.

  • Oh hm, is the frequent confusion from folks who aren't used to use constituency grammars trying to jam entire phrases into a single part of speech? They see a VP standing in for an NP as the subject of the clause and wind up calling the verb a noun?
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 21:04
  • @tchrist, Yes, or not being able to tell a NP from a N.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 21:08
  • Wouldn't option (2) also require changing the first "my" to "me"? At least to my ear, the OP's "With my persistently broadening..." sounds wrong, since it's trying to apply a possessive pronoun to a verbal phrase. Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 21:45
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    @IlmariKaronen, It may well be wrong to your ear. English seems to fluctuate between using accusative and possessive forms for the subject of nominalized sentences. "He approved of me/my eating oysters."
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 22:26
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    @CaptainBohemian, Well, a more straightforward way of putting it is: There is no such thing as a "gerund". The thing sometimes called a "gerund" is a verb which is the head of a noun phrase.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 15:24

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