In what cases does the gerund stemming from a transitive verb take the direct object of that verb and when is a prepositional complement used?

For example:

  1. Brown's deft painting of his daughter is a delight to watch (it is a delight to watch while Brown deftly paints his daughter).

  2. Painting his daughter is an outlet for his energy.

  3. Securing safety for prisoners is the main problem for the penitentiary system.

  4. The widely discussed problem of the securing of prisoners' safety was given priority.

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    – tchrist
    Jul 18, 2019 at 7:25

1 Answer 1


SUMMARY: Some -ing words are still verbs, while others have been denatured into deverbal nouns and deverbal adjectives.

Although visually indistinguishable letter by letter, these ex-verbs are easily distinguished grammatically via syntactic context, especially when the originals were transitive verbs with objects that are still represented even after their "verb licence has been revoked".

Verbs: carefully filing papers

Gerund-participles of transitive verbs

When the -ing word is still a verb, it takes standard complementation arguments typical of transitive verbs. Only these are gerunds/participles because those are only ever verbs not nouns or adjectives:

  1. Carefully filing papers on someone takes money. [VERB]

  2. They've been carefully filing papers on anyone who is lacking the money to respond in court. [VERB]

You can tell those -ing words are verbs because they take direct-object arguments and are modified by adverbs. Once you can no longer do those things to it, you no longer have a verb on your hands, merely an ex-verb.

careful filing of papers and paper-filing plans,
man-eating tigers and tiger-eaten corpses

Deverbal nouns from transitive verbs: careful filings of papers

Once the -ing word has been stripped of its verbal nature to become a deverbal noun not a verb, then it brooks no verb arguments or modifiers. Nouns do not do verb things. These are not gerunds because they are nouns not verbs:

  1. The careful filing of papers on someone takes money. [NOUN]

  2. All these careful filings of papers do know good without money to back them. [NOUN]

There you know these -ing words are nouns because they're modified by adjectives, inflect into plurals as nouns, and because the ancestral transitive verb's direct object is connected to the noun via a preposition.

Deverbal adjectives from transitive verbs: careful paper-filing plans

There are also deverbal adjectives, but those you can't use prepositions to connect nouns to. Instead their logical objects precede them, either hyphenated or run together as a compound word:

  1. All his careful paper-filing plans cost money to implement. [ADJECTIVE]

Or with a more established term instead of an ad-hoc one:

  1. Tiger known for ferociously eating men [VERB] are called ferocious man-eating [ADJECTIVE] tigers.

  2. Tigers known for the ferocious eating of men [NOUN] are called ferocious man-eating [ADJECTIVE] tigers.

You know these -ing words are adjectives because they are used attributively to describe a noun and because now their ancestral transitive verb's (plural) direct object has been placed before the word and recast into a singular.

The old adverb on those verbs is turned into an adjective as with deverbal nouns, but because deverbal adjectives are still adjectives, here when that old adverb us turned into an adjective, its perceived target changes. That is, it is understood to modify the same target noun as the new deverbal adjective and not the former verb.

That's because adjectives cannot modify adjectives, and you cannot make a two-word compound adjective out of it because the already preposed whilom direct object blocks that. While a ?ferocious-eating creature might with other verbs be vaguely plausible, you cannot ever have a *man-ferocious-eating tiger because you can no more separate the old direct object from its immediately following former verb than you could interrupt the verb before its now-following object.

Neither of these is grammatical:

  1. The tiger was last seen eating *ferociously the man she had pulled down from his hiding tree. [UNGRAMMATICAL VERB]

  2. Mary was seen giving *cheerfully her brother the book for his twelfth birthday. [UNGRAMMATICAL VERB]

That same syntactic restriction continues through to a transitive verb's derived deverbal adjectives as -ing words if you include their old direct object built into them.

Deverbal adjectives from past participles: tiger-eaten corpses

One last note, this time using past passive participles (VERB-en forms) not present active ones (VERB-ing forms). Because active and passive forms invert subject and object for the same agent and patient, deverbal adjectives with nouns built into them work differently with past particles than they do with present participles.

In short, a preposed noun is now the old subject, not the old object as in the active case:

  1. The tiger was seen eating the man for breakfast that morning. [VERB]
  2. The man-eating tiger took his customary breakfast that morning. [ADJECTIVE]

Now look what happens in the passive case by comparing man-eating tigers with tiger-eaten men:

  1. The tiger had eaten the man for breakfast. [VERB]
  2. The man was eaten by the tiger for breakfast. [VERB]
  3. Thanks to meeting his end in the jaws of a man-eating tiger, the poor man's tiger-eaten corpse was too grisly for an open casket. [ADJECTIVE × 2]

So a "noun-verbing whatever" uses the preposed noun that was the old transitive verb's object, while a "noun-verben whatever" instead uses the old active transitive verb's subject in that same position.

  • 1
    It would be terrible to have to downvote here for lack of references. Feb 23, 2020 at 19:47
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth Vita brevis.
    – tchrist
    Feb 23, 2020 at 19:52
  • 1
    That's akin ti blackmail. You know I can't downvote. At least mention Quirk. Feb 23, 2020 at 19:54

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