Given the sentence:

Most people who live and work near Washington, DC, would have trouble imagining dinosaurs walking around the area.

Grammatically, what would ‘imaging’ be called in this case? Present participle or gerund or something?

I mean, if it is a present participle, ‘imagining~’ might be a description of the subject. And if it is a gerund, ‘imagining~’ might be an object of the verb phrase of ‘have trouble’. How do they explain this ‘imagining’ after ‘have trouble’?

  • 3
    It's really simple. A gerund is a present participle functioning as a noun. If imagining were functioning as a noun there, you would be able to replace it with another noun, or throw in an adjective, etc., and have the result still be grammatical. Which is not the case. So you have a present participle but not a gerund.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 21, 2012 at 22:43
  • @RegDwighт♦: "Imagining dinosaurs is difficult for me". But I don't find it difficult to see "imagining dinosaurs" as a noun, since it's quite happily functioning as the subject of a verb. Nov 21, 2012 at 23:50
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    @FumbleFingers different sentence is different. Of course in your sentence it's a gerund. Precisely because it can be replaced with another noun, or take an adjective, etc. But in OP's example it clearly can do no such thing, and your sentence is nowhere to be seen in his question. When the OP asks about the function of go in the sentence "I go home", we are not supposed to analyze its function in "I play go" instead.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 22, 2012 at 9:43

2 Answers 2


1. Some verbs (other than auxiliaries) can take other verbs immediately after themselves:

She sat knitting.

He helped (to) wash up.

I enjoy imagining what it will be like when I'm old enough to ride free on the buses.

These constructions are known as catenations; notice that the second verb may be in the -ing form, the bare infinitive, or the to-infinitive. Behaviour of individual verbs varies.

2. Some multi-word constructions resemble single-word verbs both semantically

(put on a hat = don a hat

the aeroplane put down on the island = the aeroplane landed on the island

take place can = occur, happen)

and in where they can be used in larger structures (as these examples also show).

'Have trouble' is a multi-word verb that catenates with the -ing form of a verb (though I can't think of an exact single-word replacement). These are closely related expressions, though:

Ron had trouble passing his exams.

Hermione enjoyed taking her exams.

Hermione took pleasure in taking her exams.

Ron struggled to pass his exams.

George regretted failing his exams.

Fred avoided taking his exams.

The -ing forms used here (in five of the examples) are at the verb end of the verb–noun gradience: they are present participles.

According to 5 of the first 6 references I checked in a Google search for "gerund meaning", including the AHDEL and Collins, the -ing form used in the original example is NOT a gerund, though FumbleFingers' example would qualify. The treatment of the verbal–nounal gradience of -⁠ing forms found in Quirk et al shows that the term 'gerund' is probably best avoided. As my Google search indicates, it's not always used the same way anyway. If I was pressed, I'd say that (only) usage 2 and arguably 3 below use what most people would call a gerund:

  1. Thieves stole a painting by Von Gaff yesterday. (deverbal noun)

  2. Painting can be very therapeutic.

  3. My painting landscapes can be very time-consuming. (POSS-ing; verbal and nounal characteristics)

  4. Leonardo was painting. (present participle in past continuous)

  5. Leonardo sat painting. (present participle in past phase structure)

  6. Leonardo sat painting dinosaurs. (present participle in past phase structure)

  7. Leonardo had trouble painting daleks. (present participle)

  • It's very helpful for me to understand the sentence: In the example, "Hermione took pleasure in taking her exams," you suggest that 'took pleasure in' is a multi-word verb. Is that right?
    – Listenever
    Nov 21, 2012 at 23:13
  • And I have another question here. Is there any rule that when a verb is followed by a preposition? Or is it just depending on case by case?
    – Listenever
    Nov 21, 2012 at 23:23
  • Yes, though there is a lot of debate over the analysis of such structures. Verb + adverb? preposition? particle? structures, often called 'phrasal verbs' and 'prepositional verbs', though I've found very conflicting terminology - which I thus avoid - are very common in English. By far the best analysis of this whole area, including MWVs such as 'take place', 'lord it over', 'come clean', 'make do', that I know of, is in 'Multi-Word Verbs in Early Modern English' by Claudia Claridge. The treatment is by no means archaic. Nov 21, 2012 at 23:27
  • Re your second question: that addresses many topics, unresolved analyses, and matters of style. You'll have to look elsewhere for in-depth treatments, as you feel able. I'll just point out that in He looked up the street, up the street is an adverbial phrase telling us more about how he looked - in which direction. In He looked up the word, up the word is no longer a meaningful phrase. In this usage, looked up is a multi-word verb meaning something like 'opened his dictionary to find the meaning of'. Nov 21, 2012 at 23:37
  • I probably shouldn't have bothered answering this one in the first place - I think this is something of a "How long is a piece of string?" question. For example, Leonardo tried painting, which can be very therapeutic, seems to me to blur the (already somewhat academic) distinction between gerund and present participle. If you split that into two sentences (replace ", which" with ". Painting"), have you then got two "different" words, or just the same "word" repeated? As you say, there is a lot of debate. Nov 21, 2012 at 23:46

Take the similar construction "In football, deliberately tripping an opponent is a foul"...

Here the verb trip occurs in its gerund form tripping, but this tripping is still a verb: it takes the adverb deliberately and the object an opponent. However, the entire phrase deliberately tripping an opponent, because of the gerund within it, now functions as a noun phrase, in this case as the subject of the sentence. So, a gerund is still a verb, but the phrase built around it is nominal, not verbal. [Source]

That may be a lot of cut & pasted material, but I think it's well put. The point it's irrelevant that the gerund can be further modified (by indirect objects, adverbs, etc.). Here's a link specifically dealing with to have trouble / problems verbing + ing / gerund.

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