I keep hearing on the BBC channel their self-commercial that goes like "We are the leaders in global breaking news". Folks, could anybody kindly explain to me how come that structure is grammatically possible? My layman's understanding is that if gerund is used as a verb, "breaking" (breaking WHAT? breaking news) then only an adverb can be used to characterize the action. That is "breaking news globally", unless "breaking" is meant as as an adjective describing news, which doesn't seem to make any sense. Thanks for any comments.

  • 1
    I'd be inclined to say that the semantic divergence from the verb "breaking" is sufficient to establish that this "breaking" is an adjective, not a verb. Contrast the NP "sleeping chid", where "sleeping" is a verb phrase, not an adjective. "Global" modifies the nominal "breaking news".
    – BillJ
    Apr 8, 2019 at 11:43

2 Answers 2


The term 'breaking news' is a fixed expression as defined in this Oxford Dictionary:

[mass noun]

Newly received information about an event that is currently occurring or developing.

‘some breaking news now of a rescue situation in California’

‘the announcement will likely be the lead story for the broadcast, barring other major breaking news’

So 'breaking' here isn't a verb that takes 'news' as object.

The best way to learn these things is by simply getting used to these fixed expressions.

Technically, 'breaking' can be a verb that takes 'news' as object, but these are normally limited to 'the news' as in:

I hate to break the news to you, but you're wrong.

BBC was the first to break the news.

But this sounds unidiomatic if not ungrammatical:

We are the leaders in breaking news globally.


I need to clarify my position about whether breaking in breaking news is a verb or an adjective.

When I said:

'breaking' here isn't a verb that takes 'news' as object

I didn't mean that breaking in breaking news is not a verb but an adjective, although OED cited in the other answer disagrees. What I meant was only that it is not a verb that takes 'news' as object. But it still is a verb (and not yet an adjective), a verb that doesn't take 'news' as object, i.e., an intransitive verb.

According to The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (page 541), sleeping in a sleeping child is not an adjective but a verb, and this is what the book says about the criterion for determining whether a participle in a pre-modifying construction is a verb or an adjective:

In general, we will take the form as a verb if it cannot function as a predicative adjective. We have already seen that sleeping has no predicative adjective use; cf. also a smiling face, the sinking ship, a dying man, etc.

That is, if a participle in a pre-modifying construction cannot function as a predicative adjective, the participle is a verb.

The child is sleeping.

The face is smiling.

The ship is sinking.

The man is dying.

In none of the above examples can the participle function as a predicative adjective; it can only function as a verb embedded in the progressive construction.

Now turning to the current example:

The news is breaking.

Here, breaking cannot function as a predicative adjective, either. Therefore, breaking in breaking news (as well as in late-breaking news) is a verb, despite OED's classification otherwise.

  • Perfect, case closed. Thanks JK2. That is the key link to the Oxford Dictionary entry for the mass compound noun "breaking news" - that fact I just didn't know. It totally explains and grammatically legitimizes the use of adjective. Nothing to add here.
    – Phil
    Apr 8, 2019 at 20:57
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    @Phil Merriam-Webster also defines the noun late-breaking news. Apr 9, 2019 at 2:09
  • @JasonBassford I think 'late' there is an adverb that modifies the verb 'break'. And this use shows that 'breaking' does have some aspect of a verb, albeit limited.
    – JK2
    Apr 9, 2019 at 2:37
  • @jk2 No, the entire phrase is a noun. That's why the dictionary defines it as a noun. (But you can disagree with the dictionary if you like. Although I don't know why you'd want to argue against your own answer . . .) Apr 9, 2019 at 2:40
  • @JasonBassford Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're saying, but why would I want to argue against my own answer? 'Cause I'm not. Just because 'late' is an adverb doesn't mean 'late-breaking news' is not an NP. (The entire phrase 'late-breaking news' is not a noun but a noun phrase, which are two different things.) For example, the recently announced news is an NP but includes an adverb recently.
    – JK2
    Apr 9, 2019 at 3:02

The Oxford English Dictionary certainly recognizes the use of breaking as an adjective with the most recent (2016) revision to the entry for breaking explaining, specifically, that when used in relation to a news story, the adjective refers to a story that is currently developing or is recent.

Interestingly, the earliest recorded example is from 1877 in an American newspaper.

  • The on-line Oxford doesn't list it, and that's probably the dictionary that most people around here use. But I agree that's it adjective solely on the grounds of its semantic divergence from the verb form "breaking". In all other respects it has the properties of a verb.
    – BillJ
    Apr 8, 2019 at 13:06
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    Dictionaries, even OED, are a very unreliable source for parts-of-speech classification.
    – JK2
    Apr 14, 2019 at 3:48

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