The sentence is the following. I'm focusing on the part in bold:

Feeding the goats is messy and time consuming.

It's in this book.

The author provides the following diagram: enter image description here

And I think it should look like this, a present participle (curved line) modifying the noun time, both forming a compound adjective: enter image description here

  • 1
    'Time-consuming' is classed as a single lexeme, a compound adjective, by CD, M-W, Collins, Macmillan, Longman, OLD, AHD .... I'd say it persists as such in predicative usage, but the hyphen is sometimes dropped [Collins]. How do you usually diagram open compounds? Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 11:07

2 Answers 2


I love this question. It points out an interesting aspect of how the present participle forms phrases versus how the present progressive tense operates--and the difference in meaning.

But, first to answer your question. Simplifying the example to, "Feeding goats is time consuming," makes clear that "is" acts as a linking verb. So, "time consuming" must be a subject complement, which means that it must be in the nature of an adjective or a noun. "Time consuming" definitely is not a noun. To prove it, try to use it as the subject of a simple sentence. It won't make sense. It must be an adjective. Since it must be an adjective, its head should be an adjective. Between "time" and "consuming", "consuming" is a present participle which acts like an adjective, and "time" is not an adjective. So, "consuming" must be at the head, and "time" must be complementing it or modifying it. Since, "time" is a noun, it doesn't really modify other words, so it cannot be a modifier. It must be acting as a complement. In this case, it is a complement (or direct object) of the present participle, "consuming."

The cool things, here, is that "time" can go before or after "consuming." "Feeding goats is time consuming," and "Feeding goats is consuming time," both work. The former is constructed with the present participle, and suggests that the act of feeding goats takes a lot of time. The latter uses the present progressive, "is consuming," and suggests that a specific and currently happening event of a feeding goats is using time.

I would argue that the particular construct of your example is almost idiomatic in nature. Normally, "time" as a complement of the present participle would follow the present participle. Here, "time" precedes the present participle because, otherwise, the sentence would have an entirely different meaning. Inserting "time" between "is" and "consuming" prevents inadvertent formation of the present progressive verb. But, it also makes for some confusing syntax for purposes of diagramming.

  • Hi Matthew! Thank you for your answer. Yes, both structures seem to have the same sense, but shouldn't we take into account parallel structures—*is making a mess* (transitive verb + object)/(is) consuming time (transitive verb + object) or messy *(adjective)/*time consuming*(adjective)? And, I agree, if we consider *time consuming as a subject complement then it makes sense that it is a present participle and its object.
    – mjfneto
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 13:47
  • As in here.
    – mjfneto
    Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 14:39
  • Sorry to be slow in responding. I see your point about parallelism, but there are many instances in which that sort of structure is not parallel. E.g., "The ocean waves are beautiful and a danger." -- As I take a fresh look at your question and the author's diagram, I wonder, could "consuming" be a gerund, with "time" forming a phrase with it like two nouns might form a phrase? Such as, "room key." In other words, can noun-gerund interact in the same way that noun-noun can interact? Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 3:02

I believe the author is right. "Time" is just an object in the adjective phrase "time consuming", which is built on the model "verb and object"; you can say "feeding is consuming time".
It wouldn't be correct to say "feeding is consuming" as something would be felt to be missing (time, energy, supplies, …), yet it would make some sense; however, "feeding is time" can't make any sense except in a very elliptical manner as in "Time is money" (of course, speaking literally, "time" is not "money").
According to this understanding "time" is accessory in the syntax; therefore, it is made to depend on the branch rather than constituting it.

  • You touched an interesting point: "feeding is time" is indeed nonsensical. I think I see what you mean. I had thought about it as you mentioned (in reverse): feeding is consuming something, and that is time, but couldn't it be that they are working as a compound adjective, and the phrase is a predicate adjective, what makes sense? And, if it is an object of a verbal, then shouldn't it be diagrammed as such (└─)?
    – mjfneto
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 0:14
  • I mean, like this.
    – mjfneto
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 0:55
  • @mjfneto The two ideas are not incompatible: the adjective is on the level of the clause a predicate adjective and on the level of morphology a compound adjectival construction of the type "verb object"; the type of diagramming you are studying is relatively new and I do not know it but it is evident that it goes beyond the usual scope of diagramming, which is syntax; although morphology is a part of grammar, it has not been taken into account in traditional diagramming; so, you are concerned with two levels, the syntactical and the morphological; (1/2)
    – LPH
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 7:57
  • @mjfneto necessarily, the morphological must be confined to the particular constituent that is being analysed morphologically. That is why placing "time" after "consuming", which gives to those elements a syntactical nature that they do not have, is wrong in my opinion. By the same token the beginning of your diagram does not reflect the reality of two levels: "goats" cannot be found on the level of a morphological component of "feeding". But, as I told you, I am not familiar with this new type of diagram. (2/2)
    – LPH
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 7:59
  • You brought up nteresting points, @LPH. Would you have a reference on sentence diagramming which goes over the different approaches that have been developed?
    – mjfneto
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 17:20

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