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I have always been wondering if one of these forms is more correct in formal writing: The verb-ing + noun form and the noun + verb-ing form.

For example:

  • Making music is a skill anyone can learn.
  • Music making is a skill anyone can learn.

Or:

  • Hunting whales should be banned in our country.
  • Whale hunting should be banned in our country.

They seem to have slightly different meanings to me, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Is there a preference for one over the other in certain situations?

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    Meaningwise, they seem the same to me, but syntactically different, of course. Btw, "music-making" and "whale-hunting" are compound nouns so probably best hyphenated. – BillJ Mar 20 at 8:23
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Constructions with the gerund are sometimes noun-like and sometimes verb-like (and sometimes the distinction is blurred).

The first of each of your pairs is verb-like, whereas the second is noun-like. One indicator of this is that the dependent goes in front of the gerund in a noun-like construction but after it in a verb-like one - which obviously is the difference you've noticed.

In each case the main verb wants a noun phrase as its subject, so the second is preferable - but I'm sure you would find examples of the first.

In a formal context the first version of each would be turned into a proper noun phrase by saying something like the hunting of whales. For example, the (UK) Hunting Act 2004 provides the hunting of rabbits is exempt if....

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Saying it as music-making sets the gerund in the sentence primarily as a noun, as in "His compositions were influenced by the great tradition of music-making in that country." (Cambridge Dictionary of English).

But saying it as making music (without a hyphen) emphasizes the verb aspect, as in "Making music at home has never been cheaper.", or your example: "Making music is a skill anyone can learn."

Similarly, since in your whale hunting example the emphasis is the noun, "Whale hunting should be banned in our country" is more appropriate.

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