Forgive me if this has already been answered. I've searched similar questions and only saw this The object of "I don't like people telling me what to do"? which doesn't answer my question.

So for gerunds, there are three formulas on when to use one. When it's

  1. The subject of a sentence.
  2. Followed by a prepostion.
  3. Followed by a verb.

In the following sentence, telling is a gerund followed by the noun him.

He doesnt like people telling him what to do

Infinitives are followed by nouns so why is a gerund following the noun here?

  • Like can also take a gerund complement clause, as well as an infinitive. She likes swimming in the nude is grammatical, and so is She likes to swim in the nude, and they both have the same meaning; choice of complement type is speakers' choice. BTW, it is not true that "infinitives are followed by nouns"; some are and some aren't. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 21:40

2 Answers 2


He doesn't like people [telling him what to do].

Infinitival clauses are not nouns. Clauses have a verb as their head, while noun phrases have a noun as their head. And clauses don't function as direct objects.

Your example is a catenative construction in which "like" is a catenative verb and the bracketed non-finite subordinate clause is its catenative complement.

The intervening noun phrase "people" is the syntactic object of "like" and the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate catenative clause. It's called a 'raised' object because the verb that "people" relates to syntactically is higher in the constituent structure than the one it belongs in semantically.


Like any other transitive verb, the subject and object of the verb like are the very same type of syntactic constituent: a noun phrase. A noun phrase can be a personal pronoun, or a noun with determiners and modifiers, or an infinitive clause, or a gerund clause. Those are all interchangeable.

The infinitive and gerund clauses are allowed to take optional subjects, but they do not require them the way the main verb does.

The object of like is the gerund clause people telling him what to do. It could have been salted peanuts instead, or himself. But it isn't. Here the object is a gerund clause. Since gerund clauses can be subjects as well as objects, you could say People telling him what to do bothers him.

In this instance, it could also have been an infinitive clause instead of a gerund clause: He doesn't like for people to tell him what to do. Using that same infinitive clause as a subject produces sentences such as For people to tell him what to do is what bothers him the most.

The rest of what you said about gerunds is incorrect because they are not special as you seem to be saying. Gerund clauses are just one possible type of noun phrase, and any noun phrase can be the verb's subject, or be the object of a verb or preposition, or be post-modified by a prepositional phrase. That's what noun phrases do.

You need to think in terms of syntactic constituents, which can be multiple words, not in terms of parts of speech of single words. A gerund clause is a noun phrase, which means it can do anything a noun phrase can do. That's how syntax works.

  • Gerund-participial clauses cannot function as predicative complements in clause structure, as noun phrases can (*I made him getting up the hill). Neither can they be determiners in noun phrases, as noun phrases can (*Him taking the money's effects were disastrous). This answer seems a bit of a gross simplification: the shared ability to function both as subject and non-subject complement in clause structure does not make the two equivalent. I suspect a similarly crude presentation of grammar led the asker to his current confusion.
    – DW256
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 7:49
  • Thanks for the answer tchrist. I don't understand everything you saying but the part about people telling him what to do being the entire object of the verb like is helpful.
    – Emmet
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 0:50

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