I read this in Wikipedia: "The program becomes modal, switching between interpreting commands from the keyboard or passing keystrokes on as data to be processed."

The word interpreting makes me confused. If it is an adjective, then it has an active form. But then there is a mismatch - the commands are interpreted. But it sounds like they are interpreting something.

It can also be a gerund with its own object. For example: Smoking cigarettes is bad for you. How can we distinguish between these two cases?

  • 1
    "Interpreting" is a verb heading the non-finite clause "interpreting commands from the keyboard", which functions as complement of the preposition "between". It's clearly a verb since it has a direct object, "commands from the keyboard". And though like most non-finite clauses,it is subjectless, we understand the subject to be "the program". In "Smoking cigarettes is bad for you", again "smoking" can only be a verb since it has "cigarettes" as direct object. Nouns do not take direct objects!
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 16:38
  • Thank you, now I am more confident in such constructions.
    – Martin
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 18:04
  • @BillJ: I think Martin's point here is this: if you disregard semantics, interpreting could be read as an attributive participle modifying the noun commands. Of course that is semantically impossibly, but syntactically—if I may be so simplistic—, it would be. Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 0:01

1 Answer 1


It is indeed a gerund here. But, as you say, it could have been a participle/adjective in this case, except that the meaning clearly shows that it must be a gerund.

So this may cause ambiguity in cases where the meaning isn't entirely clear. Writers should be aware of this possible ambiguity and avoid it by recasting ambiguous sentences.

  • The only way is to look at the meaning that these words form, thank you.
    – Martin
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 18:06

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