How would you analyze the gramatical form of the bold part of this sentence:

A significant number of people try to catch up on their sleep at the weekend instead of getting enough sleep during the week.

I think this is a prepositional phrase made up of a preposition (instead of) and a verb in its -ing form (getting). Or is getting a gerund? I am not entirely clear on the difference or if there is a difference.

edit: to clarify, this is an exercise that I have been assigned, the three words in bold need to have their form analyzed. So the focus of the first part of my question is not on the meaning, but on form (prepositional phrase: preposition + -ing verb or gerund). My question is really if you agree that it is 1) a proepositional phrase and 2) if the second half of the prepositional phrase is an ing verb form or a gerund (as I'm not clear on the difference, if there is). The second half of the question focuses on the "meaning" of instead of getting in this sentence. I based my answer on this entry https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/prepositional-phrases?q=Prepositional%2Bphrases

I would also like to ask if this description of the meaning in this context is adequate:

The author uses the expression instead of getting to refer to one action (sleeping more on the weekend) replacing another (getting enough sleep during the week). In other words, the interviewed subjects try to catch up on their sleep on the weekends in lieu of obtaining enough sleep during the week.

edit 2 I've changed my meaning to the following: The author uses the expression instead of to contrast between one action that the interviewed people attempt to make happen (sleep more on the weekend) from another that does not happen (getting enough sleep during the week). In other words, the interviewed subjects attempt to catch up on their sleep on the weekends and they don’t get enough sleep during the week.

edit 3 I've changed my form analysis to the following:

Instead of getting is a prepositional phrase, consisting in a preposition (instead of) followed by a verb in its gerund form (getting, the -ing form of the verb get), which is the first part of the verb phrase (getting enough sleep) that is the object of the preposition.

  • I parse it as instead of (getting enough sleep ...). Can you justify your parsing? Please do this in-text via an edit. – Lawrence Jul 14 '18 at 11:14
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    All things being equal I think in the construction X instead of Y we'd usually use the same verb form on both sides, but the gerund version ...people try catching up on their sleep doesn't work very well here - though that would be fine if we changed the "primary" verb to ...people rely on catching up on their sleep at the weekend. But both infinitive and gerund forms can function syntactically as "nouns", which is what they're doing in this case, regardless of whether the structure is fully "parallelised" or not. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '18 at 11:54
  • @Lawrence, I'm not sure what you are asking. I think I parse it in the same way, instead of (getting enough sleep). The larger context is a sleep survey report in which over half the people interviewed say they slept just under seven hours a night during the week, but slept more than seven a night at the weekend, suggesting that a significant number try to catch up on sleep at the weekend. Can you give me a bit more information on what you would like me to justify? – sic Jul 14 '18 at 12:07
  • @PhilSweet: I'm not aware of any reason to avoid instead of in such constructions. Consider a "leaner" example, such as He tried to escape instead of surrendering. What alternative would the "frowners" suggest there? I would also just note that the only real significance of including tried to there is that we know his escape attempt failed - which wouldn't be the case if we just said He escaped instead of surrendering. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '18 at 12:07
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    @sic You asked for the grammatical form of the 3-word phrase "instead of getting". But in my parsing (and yours, as you say) the phrase is really only 2 words, "instead of". The next phrase consists of the rest of the sentence. The word "getting" isn't part of that phrase. My request was for you to justify treating the 3 words together as a single phrase in the context of the given sentence. – Lawrence Jul 14 '18 at 12:22

The whole phrase headed by the word instead is:

  • instead of getting enough sleep during the week.

We can show here that the two words instead and of are not one word, but two. To show this we can put an adverb between them:

  • instead, simply, of getting enough sleep during the week.

In the phrase above, we see the word simply interpolated between instead and of, demostrating that they are two words.

In modern grammars, such as Oxford Modern English Grammar (Aarts, 2011), prepositions can take a wide variety of Complements and other dependents, or may take none at all. Typically they take noun phrases, but they may also take clauses, or other preposition phrases.

In this particular case, the preposition instead is taking another preposition phrase as it's Complement. The complement preposition phrase is:

  • of getting enough sleep during the week.

Here we have the preposition of taking the gerund-participal clause getting enough sleep during the week. The Original Poster asks whether getting is a an -ing form of the verb or a gerund. Well, even for those old-fashioned grammarians who favour nineteenth century grammar, both participles and gerunds are verbs. We can tell that the word getting is a verb here, because it takes a Direct Object. Nouns cannot do this, instead they put the equivalent of the Direct Object in a preposition phrase, typically beginning with the word of. Consider:

  • The Vogons emancipated the Daleks.
  • the Vogon's emancipation of the Daleks.

For such grammarians the verb getting is a gerund in the Original Poster's example because it is the Complement of a preposition. For modern grammars such as The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, the distinction between gerund and participle is spurious because it is based on the words grammatical relation—for example, Complement of a preposition— and not on inherent properties of the verb itself. For this reason, they, and other modern grammarians, refer to such forms of verbs as gerund-participles regardless of their grammatical relations.

So, in short, the word instead is a preposition, taking a preposition phrase as a Complement. This preposition phrase is headed by the preposition of, which in turn is taking a gerund-participle clause as a Complement.

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  • I don’t see how instead can ever be a preposition at all, and instead suspect it of being an adverb. But perhaps instead of should be analysed as a “multiword preposition phrase” rather than a single-worded preposition, much like in place of functions as a de-facto prepositional phrase despite being in theory separable into two such via “in the place of” type games (= in the place + of). That’s not a bad comparison, given how you can also play the same sort of sleight of tongue games by inserting an infix possessive for “in its stead”, though it’s only slightly separable. – tchrist Jul 14 '18 at 21:01
  • Personally, I can't squeeze an adverb in there. – Phil Sweet Jul 14 '18 at 21:29
  • @tchrist Well, I can't say that you wouldn't be in good company. All the different bits you mentioned are discussed by CamGEL. However, I agree with them that it must be a preposition. First notice that in your example, instead could be replaced by a PP: "I don’t see how instead can ever be a preposition at all, and in contrast/in all honesty/of course/with a little hesitation suspect it of being an adverb". So, an intransitive adverb would fit well there too. There's several reasons to prefer the preposition to adverb analysis: ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 14 '18 at 23:36
  • @tchrist ... prepositions more often than not can take complements, whereas adverbs rarely do. The handful of adverbs that do, all end in -ly, for example. However, the best evidence, I believe, is that instead-PPs can be predicative complements: That was instead of going there on Friday. Adverbs can't do this. ... (Don't know if you have a copy of CCamGEL, but it's pages 616 & 622-3 where they discuss phrases like instead of or instead particularly). – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 14 '18 at 23:48
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    @Mari-LouA Phrasal verbs and infinitives aren’t single items/constituents either, though I agree that the ability to insert a parenthetical adverb doesn’t really prove that, since such parenthetic afterthoughts often do break up constituents in natural speech. The example in CGEL (p. 21) illustrating constituents shows this rather despite itself: adding apparently to the clause “A bird hit the car”, they deem “A bird hit apparently the car” ungrammatical—but as a parenthetical, it is fine: “A bird hit, apparently, the car”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 15 '18 at 9:09

Edited - The use of the word "getting" is a gerund in this case. It seems also, the indicated words "instead of getting" do constitute a prepositional phrase.

"A significant number of people" is the complex subject of the sentence (described subject).

"try" is the main action verb of the sentence.

"to catch up" is an infinitive clause acting as the object of the verb "try".

"with their sleep" and "on the weekend" are both prepositional phrases. I opted to change both prepositions here.

"Instead of" is a preposition (showing a comparison) that takes, in this case, the object gerund "getting" (see second link).

"Getting" is a gerund -ing form of the verb "get" used after the preposition "instead of" as part of the phrase "instead of getting enough sleep".

"during the week" is the concluding prepositional phrase.

The description of the meaning you suggest does not seem adequate because there are two complete actions being compared via "instead of". The first complete action of the comparison is "trying to catch up on their sleep (on the weekend)" while the second complete action being compared is "trying to get enough sleep (during the week)".




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  • @Phil, Yes, corrected. Thank you for your comment. – user22542 Jul 14 '18 at 14:26
  • @sic Getting is the head of a verb phrase; it is a verb and it has an object. That entire verb phrase is the object of the preposition. It’s critical that you look at grammatical constituents consisting of multiple words; you cannot get stuck on looking no further than parts of speech of individual words because that leads to paradoxes and contradictions. – tchrist Jul 14 '18 at 15:34
  • @tchrist Thank you for your comment. I understand what you are saying, but the assignment is to analyze only the words in the bold. Although I think it would not be wise to simply say that "getting" is the gerund object. Check out my edit 3 to see if you agree to how I will word it. – sic Jul 14 '18 at 15:45
  • @sic "Gerund" is not a part of speech. "Verb" is. Because this is "an assignment", there can be no right answer, only the answer that the person giving you the assignment demands that you provide, whether that answer happens to be right or wrong. – tchrist Jul 14 '18 at 15:46
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    @sic The assignment is mistaken. If this is a school assignment, you should absolutely point out in your answer/essay/whatever-form-it-is that the assignment is poorly laid-out, since it’s not possible to make a grammatical analysis of incomplete grammatical constituents. Consider the sentence, “We sometimes find out that the things we believe are wrong”—now imagine someone asked you to analyse the grammatical functions of “out that the”. That would be completely senseless; this assignment is essentially the same, though not as egregiously. Your edit 3 is accurate. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 15 '18 at 8:39

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