A professor criticized the language in a presentation. In particular he said that English preferred a noun phrase such as a comparison of  to a gerund such as comparing.

For reference the entire sentence follows.

Comparing prominent symptoms in drug addiction with models of aberrant learning may help us understand how those symptoms arise

I have seen both forms used in the technical literature but his point was more one of general usage. I don’t intend to argue the point with him. I merely want to know if his point is more than one of personal preference.

  • Maybe he didn’t like that one -ing was a verb phrase and the other an actual noun. – tchrist Aug 17 '12 at 14:19
  • 4
    I'd say that professor should stick to his specialist subject matter (drug addiction or whatever), and not waste the students' time promoting his own idiosyncratic linguistic preferences. – FumbleFingers Aug 17 '12 at 14:27
  • @Fumble Fingers: Some professors confuse mimicry with progress. The grumblings of another bedeviled graduate student aside, it's nice to know that I wasn't writing poor English even his would have been, at best, a minute point. – mac389 Aug 17 '12 at 14:44

Both are grammatically correct, the meaning is the same, and neither seems particularly awkward or confusing. I'd say it's personal preference.


I think there is a large element of personal preference in his comment, but I think his preference is justified.

Subjects and objects should, really, be nouns. While you often see "A gerund is a noun" written in amateur grammar sites, a gerund is not a noun. If it were, we would call it a noun and save a lot of confusion.

A gerund is a verbal noun, with characteristics of both noun and verb. It is the verbal characteristics that make is less suitable to be the subject or object of a sentence. Using the noun phrase makes it clear that you are referencing the concrete existence of a comparison, rather than the idea of an occurrence of comparing.

I am not suggesting the gerund is wrong, just that the noun phrase is arguably more elegant.

  • Thanks for your comment. I thought gerunds were on an equal footing with other nouns and did not catch that they retained , shall we say, "verbish impurities". – mac389 Aug 17 '12 at 15:15
  • Why do you say ‘Subjects and objects should, really, be nouns’? You have yourself used not nouns, but clauses, as the subjects and objects in several of your sentences. – Barrie England Aug 17 '12 at 15:30
  • ...because it is a lot easier to type than 'noun, noun clause, or noun phrase', and because mac389 doesn't strike me as the kind of person who needs it spelling out. – Roaring Fish Aug 17 '12 at 15:52
  • I appreciate the compliment @RoaringFish. – mac389 Aug 17 '12 at 19:21
  • Yet your link to Wikipedia starts out with "In linguistics, a verbal noun is a noun...." – Chan-Ho Suh Aug 18 '12 at 5:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.