Throughout my life, I have relied on intuition to ensure that my sentences are intelligible and grammatical. I like using gerunds because they can shorten sentences and avoid redundancy. Recently, however, the use of gerunds in some scenarios has confused me. In a sentence like:

Francesco Petrarch was a seminal Renaissance humanist who pioneered unearthing classical texts.

Would the use of gerunds be grammatical? Or should it be changed to:

Francesco Petrarch was a seminal Renaissance humanist who pioneered the unearthing of classical texts.

Which I often find in fustian or archaic text. Moreover, if the gerund is used correctly in the first sentence, are there rules that govern the use of gerunds?

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    Yes, there are rules, but most of them say "it depends on the verb". Some verbs, like sense verbs, can take either infinitive or gerund (I watched him eat it/eating it), some take only infinitives, some take only gerunds, some don't take any untensed clauses, and some don't take clause complements at all. A good dictionary should tell you all this for every verb. But most don't. Aug 8, 2022 at 17:27
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    @JohnLawyer Interesting. Having lived in an environment where I often use English, I generally have no problem recognizing whether a word can take gerunds by gauging if it sounds natural. However, pioneered + unearthing is unfamiliar territory because I don't remember seeing them anywhere, and I've only used it because I like to avoid using "the + verb-ing + of" construction.
    – JY WS
    Aug 8, 2022 at 17:42
  • That's the right attitude. If you have instincts about what sounds right, follow them. There will always be a few that are new. Aug 8, 2022 at 18:27
  • @JohnLawler But you can't say "I watched eating it", it has to be "I watched the eating of it", right? The subject of the dependent clause makes a difference.
    – Barmar
    Aug 8, 2022 at 19:37
  • There are a lot of differences between I want to do it, I want him to do it, I promised to do it, and I promised him to do it. For instance. Those pronouns are not just sitting there; they have parts to play in the syntax. Aug 8, 2022 at 21:24

1 Answer 1


In this case, it is likely best to appeal to the wisdom of the crowd. Ngram Viewer suggests that "pioneered making" and "pioneered the making" are about equally common at present. Clicking on the Google Books results in Ngram shows many uses of "pioneer" with either a gerund or a verbal noun.

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