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Is talking a gerund in this sentence?

We hear people talking of your son’s birth.

I just need to know for my English poetry assignment.

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If “gerund” means “using a non-finite verb clause where the grammar requires a noun phrase”, then sure, since the verb phrase headed by talking is being used as an object. So we know that as a syntactic constituent, it has to be noun phrase since it’s an object.

In the sentence:

We hear people talking of your son’s birth.

We have a simple SOV (Subject–Verb–Object) sentence in three pieces:

  • The subject is we, the first-person plural pronoun in subject-case.

  • The verb is hear, a finite verb matching the subject in form.

  • And the object is the non-finite verb clause people talking of your son’s birth. This clause has a subject of people and its verb uses the non-finite -ing inflection.

Same thing, almost not different

Yours is very nearly the same in all regards as the sentence:

We hear people talk of your son’s birth.

The only difference is that here the non-finite clause used as the sentence object is a verb in the infinitive of the verb instead of a verb in its -ing form. All the rest is the same.

People dating gerunds dating dating gerunds dating

The term “gerund” is dated. It’s widely misunderstood and misused. It’s really best left out discussions about English, since it only makes sense in Latin and such. We prefer other ways of talking about these things now.

The current term of art used by modern grammars of the English language for -ing verbs used to head non-finite verb phases is gerund-participle, but that’s little better. Just call them -ing verb phrases and I bet you you’ll be less confused than those who don’t. :)

  • Am I correct in thinking that if a sentence contains an obvious ellipsis and if, once the missing words are supplied, it becomes clear that the -ing word is verbal, then the elliptical usage should also be regarded as verbal. 'We hear people [who are] talking of ...' ? – Nigel J May 11 '18 at 12:15
  • @NigelJ I think probably so. Those are cases of “whiz-deletion”, where one can construe a deleted wh- word and an inflection of be. The thing with non-finite clauses like dogs biting people, when you re-insert the putatively deleted whiz sequence you arrive at a different head, that of the clause’s subject, here dogs, rather than the verbal head biting where dogs is the clause’s subject but the whole clause is the broader sentence’s object. This leads people to hem-and-haw on whether the -ing gerund-participle verb sees use as a substantive (“gerund”) or modifier (”participle”). – tchrist May 11 '18 at 12:55

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