I wonder how to distinguish words with a verb base and the -ing suffix. I have found that they fall into the following 3 classes:

1) gerundial noun (he had witnessed the killing of the birds),
2) gerund-participle form of verb (he was expelled for killing the birds or they're entertaining Jack) and
3) participial adjective (the show was entertaining)

Problems show up when I try to compare the first and the second example. Why can't I say 'he was expelled for the killing of the birds'? (with an article and therefore of)

What's the rule that I should use when dealing with gerunds like that?

There is an action in the second example, which is he was expelled for killing the birds, but in the first one, a guy didn't do any action, he just witnessed it. Maybe this is the rule?!

Another example:
Kim hates writing letters
Kim hadn't been involved in the writing of the letters.

Examples above were taken from The Cambridge Grammar of the English language

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    You can say "He was expelled for [the killing of the birds]", where the bracketed element is an NP as object complement of "for". The determiner "the" marks it as an NP. Generally, test by looking for determiners such as "the", and complementation such as NP objects (with verbs) vs PPs (with nouns). Modification by adverbs vs adjectives is a useful test too: "He was expelled for brutally killing the birds" (adverb modifying verb) vs "He was expelled for the brutal killing of the verbs" (adjective modifying noun).
    – BillJ
    May 5, 2019 at 10:43
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    It basically depends on whether the -ing term is being used as a noun or a verb.
    – Hot Licks
    May 5, 2019 at 12:03
  • That's what the tests I outlined determine.
    – BillJ
    May 5, 2019 at 12:58
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    What you've called "gerundial noun" is simply a noun -- it's not a gerund at all. It's confusing that the -ing ending is used to derive nouns from verbs as well as gerunds, but it happens.
    – Greg Lee
    May 5, 2019 at 19:56
  • So, then what's the difference between 1) He was expelled for killing the birds > He was expelled for the killing of the birds? May 6, 2019 at 5:50

2 Answers 2


Why can't I say "He was expelled for the killing of the birds?"

You actually can say that. It isn't grammatically incorrect and it makes perfect sense. It does make it somewhat less explicit that he was the one who killed the birds, but in context that fact would still be obvious.

Huddleston & Pullum never say that such a sentence would be incorrect; it just isn't the example they happen to choose.


There are 5 forms of the -ing form

Participles: These are entirely verbal "He is painting" "When painting, he looked intelligent.

Adjectives: "The painting chimpanzee was a great attraction."

Gerunds: these are verbal but can function as nouns (subject/object). The gerund "verbing" is equivalent to "doing the action of verb". They are uncountable and are modified by an adverb "Painting was his hobby" -> "Deftly painting was his hobby." "The wall took much painting."

Gerunds do not take an article as this would create a substantive: - *The swimming is prohibited.

Verbal nouns: these are countable and modified by an adjective. "The painting of the wall took all day." -> "The careful painting of the wall took all day." -> The many paintings of the wall eventually covered the stains." - "The wall looks shabby - a painting is in order."

Common nouns: "The/a [fine] painting of the Duke hung on the walls." / "The [old] paintings of the Duke hung on the walls." The common noun can usually be swapped for a similar deverbal noun: "The/a [fine] picture/portrait of the Duke hung on the walls."

It should be noted that

(i) not all verbs appear in all forms.

(ii) some words ending in "-ing" do not fall into the above categories, e.g. "During (preposition) the war, he was a pilot." / "Indoors, providing (conjunction) the boarders weren't around, she never wore a stitch."

  • Marginal prepositions? The noun ... verb gradience for ing-forms has been covered before. Quirk gives a detailed breakdown ... while CGELites prefer to lump all but deverbal nouns, if I remember correctly. But contentious claims need attributions. Jun 17, 2023 at 11:45
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    Marginal prepositions? An interesting point. Can an "-ing form" of a verb that no longer exists (to dure) be a participle?
    – Greybeard
    Jun 17, 2023 at 11:59
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    NO: Gerunds never "function" as nouns! "Noun" is not a grammatical function. It's a part of speech. Nouns can be inflected for number, be modified by adjectives/pp, modify other nouns &c. A verb used as the subject or object is functioning as a subject or object, not as a noun. Gerunds are never nouns, only ever verbs. Once you have an -ing word that acts like a noun, for example, "interesting new trainings", you no longer have a verb at all: you have a noun. In "I find taming shrews to be hard", you have a VP as the DO; it is not a noun. Only in "the taming of the shrews" is it a noun.
    – tchrist
    Jun 17, 2023 at 13:10
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    @tchrist This is back to the classification bunfight spelled out by Aarts (3 schools of thought: [1] POS classes are well defined and word usages can only exist as a single POS. Problem usages migrate to the 'nearest' POS terminal, using agreed (Ha!} hierarchies of tests (try sorting 'galore' out) // [2] Major POS classes are well defined; some problem word usages fall however outside these and lie somewhere along a continuum between terminals / [3] Word usages may demand that a word usage be placed simultaneously in more than POS category.) Jun 17, 2023 at 13:58
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    @EdwinAshworth I am sick to death of the infinite confusions and misleading references given in wrong answers about "gerunds". The word "gerund" should be banned from ELU! You want gerunds, go to Latin. It is not a part of speech nor a grammatical function in English, and pretending it is one just screws people up. I don't think we can solve this because the internet, education materials for small children, and even some learners' books are filled with contradictions unsuitable for professional use.
    – tchrist
    Jun 17, 2023 at 16:41

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