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Note: I sat on this question for quite some time, but after wracking my brain on it for quite a while, I finally caved and decided to ask it as a question.

When I say “dining room,” most people, I presume, would probably say the word “dining” is a gerund-participial verb (or more traditionally, I would personally say (just the way I look at things) that it’s a “gerund” acting as a modifier of the noun (table for dining, not a table that IS dining ~ present participle ~).

Regardless, how can “dining” be distinguished with 100% certainty as a “verb”, rather than “a deverbal noun/attributive noun”,

as in: couldn’t someone see “a dining room” as “a room for habitual dining,” just as much as “a room for habitually dining?” If someone interpreted “dining” in their minds like the former instance, wouldn’t that make “dining” noun-preferred over verbal?

A Sidenote: I still feel like a verbal interpretation is preferable; however, I just don’t understand the tests of concretely establishing why the former interpretation (verb) COULD be interpreted over the latter (noun) interpretation, or vice versa.

Other examples, for instance, where I’m unsure as to whether the -ing word is a gerund-participle verb or simply a noun include:

Marketing personnel (As in, personnel for the marketing of various products (noun) or personnel for marketing products (gerund)).

Writing table (a table for occasional (or frequent) writing (noun) or a table for writing (things) (gerund).

Or others, such as:

Reading assignment

Opening quotations

Accounting costs

Gaming computer

Advertising expenditures

Dating app

Drinking water

Climbing wall

Swimming pool

Walking stick (Etc)

I could go on forever.

Do I just pick one interpretation and stick with it?

Also, it’s not that I NEED to know whether it’s one or the other. If there is simply no way to tell, then I’m fine with someone saying that it’s ambiguous, but if that’s the case, is there a “preferred” choice in these cases, or no?

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    I think the distinction you're drawing is very fuzzy. These phrases can be interpreted either way.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 0:22
  • A gaming computer is a computer intended for gaming (== playing games).
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 0:24
  • Many of them follow that pattern: "Xing Y == Y that's used/intended for Xing". Swimming pool, climbing wall, dating app, walking stick.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 0:26
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    I don't think there's any way to tell from basic principles. The relationship is ideosyncratic, you just need to know them. An opening quotation is not a quotation used for opening, it's a quotation that opens something. A climbing vine is a vine that climbs -- contrast this with climbing wall.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 0:29
  • 2
    Almost all of these are fixed phrases, which behave like single words, and have no individual POS for the most part. Popular noun compounds do that, and English is full of them. Unless you're up for serious ontology, noun compounds (even limited to -ing first words) is a very complex subject in English. Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 18:10

3 Answers 3

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Those are all attributive nouns, not adjectives let alone verbs.

You can tell because:

  1. They cannot be used predicatively without changing the meaning. The water isn't drinking, the computer isn't gaming, the stick isn't walking.
  2. They cannot be modified by adverbs like rather or very. It can't be a very gaming computer, rather drinking water, an absolutely walking stick. Those are all grammatically hosed.

Now try it with something different, like an interesting idea:

  1. That idea is interesting.
  2. It's a very interesting idea.

Which is how you know that here it’s a deverbal adjective, not a noun let alone a verb.


PS: I assume by walking stick you mean the cane used for walking, not the walking stick that's an insect which actually is a stick that’s walking.

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  • Thank you for your concise and clear comment! I definitely knew that they weren’t adjectives; however, the only reason why I doubted whether the -ing words in my examples were simply deverbal attributive nouns, rather than a gerund (as I would use) modifying the nouns here, is that I’ve seen some people describe these examples as actually “gerunds” modifying the noun, not the present participle form, e.g., a stick for walking, not a stick that is walking. so I suppose the notion that a “gerund” itself can somehow actually be a modifier of a noun isn’t an actual concept? That makes it easier!
    – Taylor B.
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 1:22
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    @TaylorB. Not matter whether you use an ‑ɪɴɢ verb phrase as a grammatical subject or object or as a grammatical modifier, a verb phrase it remains. You can't use them as noun modifiers in the attributive position, only predicatively following the noun. Diligently watching him paint the house red was fantastic! is ok, and so are both I'll be diligently watching him paint the house red and Somebody diligently watching him paint the house red would be bored. But ❌ I'm not much of a diligently watching him paint the house red person is not. See the difference?
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 2:28
  • Hmmm @tchrist I may not be interpreting your last comment correctly. When you say: “you can’t use them as noun modifiers in the attributive position,” would this mean that “a crying baby,” for instance, is simply a deverbal adjective then? And not a participial verb? Sorry, I’ve read way too many stackexchange threads from people with various frameworks, so I was just wondering on what specifically you meant by that. I was originally under the impression that a verb in a modifier position before the noun can be either an adjective or a verb. Continued….
    – Taylor B.
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 2:50
  • as in, it’s an adjective if it passes tests such as the “very” test, or if it can occur as complement to complex transitive or intransitive verbs for instance. If they fail, then it’s a verb. But I may just be mixing terminologies here :c
    – Taylor B.
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 2:52
  • Also @tchrist if that is the case, then any -ing word as a modifier that passes the predicate test and means the same thing: such as “crying baby” —> “baby is crying” is simply an adjective? I think I remember a thread you commented on in relation to “a running experiment.” And I really like the way of simply classifying that as an adjective (versus other people who constantly reference CGEL and propose tests to see if the candidate word is a verb or adjective) but I thought I would just make sure that this is what you are referring to here. Also, I super appreciate these replies.
    – Taylor B.
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 3:07
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Let's compare these examples:

(1) popularity contest
(2) popular contest

Clearly, "popularity" is a noun that modifies "contest", whereas "popular" is an adjective that modifies "contest". So both are modifiers, but their parts of speech are different.

Now, see if your "dining room" is more like (1) or (2).

You can easily see that it's more like (1) because "dining" doesn't denote the quality of "room", just as "popularity" doesn't denote the quality of "contest".

As for those who refer to "dining" in "dining room" as a gerund (as opposed to a present participle), they don't distinguish between "breaking the seal" and "the breaking of the seal". Their definition of "gerund" is so broad that it can be a noun as well as a verb. So even if you follow their terminology, their classing "dining" in "dining room" as a "gerund" doesn't really mean that they class it as a verb.

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  • true. Outside of what people will say on ELU, most people wouldn’t distinguish a difference between “gerund” and “noun” like your “breaking” examples. Though, it is interesting how “breaking the seal” is technically a verb (gerund) not a noun and “the breaking of the seal” is a noun, not a verb. I do find the distinction to be an interesting one, but examples such as the ones I posed can be a challenge when trying to decide if it does in fact carry the classification of either “verb” or “noun.” I’m actually totally on board with calling my -ing examples nouns, like tchrist suggested.
    – Taylor B.
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 6:01
  • Continued… although, I really would love a grammar or something I can use as a framework when thinking about constructions such as these. I hope he responds so I can ask him where he got the “predicate test” from in relation to -ing words as attributive modifiers being either adjectives or nouns because it definitely simplifies things tremendously.
    – Taylor B.
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 6:04
  • Also, out of curiosity @JK2, do you see any issue with just classifying both of your “breaking” examples as either “gerund” or just simply “noun,” or even just a “verbal noun?” Im curious if you think the distinction really matters in the end. As for me, it seems pretty arbitrary in relation to semantics but I’d love to hear what you think on the matter.
    – Taylor B.
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 6:18
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    Of course, the distinction matters, if you're to make grammar any meaningful. It's essentially distinguishing between a verb ("breaking the seal") and a noun ("the breaking of the seal"). Those who would call them both a "gerund" simply have a broad definition of the term, where "gerund" can be either a noun or a verb. So, even those people would have to distinguish between the two constructions. They can't just hide behind the umbrella term "gerund".
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 6:29
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    It's not about choosing between tchrist and CGEL. It's about choosing what sounds logical to you. In the question you've cited, I'd say @herisson has presented the most logical and comprehensive answer.
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 14:50
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Your question is whether "dining" here is a gerund or a noun, on the assumption that a gerund is ultimately a verb.

The answer is: a gerund is a noun, or rather functions as one (see Wikipedia). So it can be used attributively just like any other noun.

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  • What's the function of a noun? Does a gerund have the same function?
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 5:22
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    "Dining-room" is a compound noun with the gerund-participial verb as its first element. It has the purposive meaning "room for dining in". Similarly "drinking-water", "swimming-pool" and "walking-stick".
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 14:21
  • @BillJ None of those phrases are usually hyphenated, because they consist of an attributive noun followed by the noun they are modifying. A gerund is not a verb, it is a noun, or rather a verb form that functions as a noun syntactically.
    – alphabet
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 14:36
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    They are hyphenated because they are compound nouns consisting of two bases, not syntactic constructions consisting of modifier + head. A gerund is a verb, though some have noun forms where they are called gerundial nouns: "He was expelled for killing the birds" (verb) / "He witnessed the killing of the birds" (noun).
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 14:46

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