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  1. #1
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    Gerund or participle?

    Hi,
    Here’s what I’ve come across today:
    “When the noun preceding the gerund is plural, collective, or abstract, use the common form of that noun, not the possessive.

    Professor Villa was amazed by her students working as hard as they did.”

    1. Is it really a gerund? Looks like a participle.
    2. How true is the statement? I’ve never heard of it.
    Maybe we could say instead that in such cases the ing-form is not a gerund but a participle?
    What do you think?
    Thanks

  2. #2
    Lynque is offline Newbie
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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    Professor Villa was amazed by her students working as hard as they did.

    As you have it here, you have a participial. Try this for a gerund as such, but of somewhat convoluted construction:

    Her students' working as hard as they did amazed Professor Villa.

    Gerunds show up when the "process" in the form of whatever+ing is made a noun, which now becomes an issue of subject or object in the sentence. Notice the reversed word order and you can see now that it's not the students who amazed the prof, but (Her students') working (as hard as they did).

    With all that, look closely and identify what small thing has made the difference.
    Last edited by Lynque; 21-Mar-2007 at 15:42.

  3. #3
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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    To add a bit more background for the readers, the same source provides:
    When the noun preceding the gerund [i.e., the noun Carlos] is modified by other words [i.e., his oldest son], use the common form of that noun [example b.], not the possessive [example a.].
    1. Federico was pleased by Carlos's making the Dean's List for the first time.
      but
    2. Federico was pleased by Carlos, his oldest son, making the Dean's List for the first time.
    When the noun preceding the gerund is plural [i.e., the noun students], collective, or abstract, use the common form of that noun [as shown in example a.], not the possessive [her students'].
    1. Professor Villa was amazed by her students working as hard as they did.
    2. The class working collaboratively was somebody else's idea.
    3. It was a case of old age getting the better of them.
    Here's my $0.02 cents. I get both readings, the gerund one and the participle one, and there's no significant difference in their meaning, at least to me. Maybe that's because they're examples of where gerunds and particples overlap. Just a guess.

    All the best.

  4. #4
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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    That is interesting...I have only taught and talked about this issue in terms of possessive vs. object pronouns and focus; "His singing in the shower is funny" (focus on the action of singing) and "Him singing in the shower is funny" (focus on the person singing). C's example #2 with the modifier echoes this I think. The object pronoun, I'm assuming, is not the equivalent of the "common form" referred to..or is it..? Obviously a proper noun functioning as an object doesn't change form. I like the rule just because I like rules and those examples sure would seem strange with a possessive!

    Anyway, this is a whole different kettle of fish I suppose because it seems it's the labelling of the structure that is at issue here too. The participle does seem to be a very close cousin when you don't have a possessive element but if you remove the participial phrase, the sentence doesn't make any sense, particularly in subject position, so I'm sticking to gerund

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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    Quote Originally Posted by fiona bramble View Post
    The object pronoun, I'm assuming, is not the equivalent of the "common form" referred to..or is it..?
    I had the very same question and the reason I looked up the source - to find out what 'common form' meant. The source, by the way, provides Carlos (common form) and Carlos's (possessive form), but says nothing about subject or object forms. I, like you, assume, given the syntax that Carlos = him, object pronoun.

    Quote Originally Posted by fiona bramble
    The participle does seem to be a very close cousin when you don't have a possessive element but if you remove the participial phrase, the sentence doesn't make any sense, particularly in subject position, so I'm sticking to gerund
    Here's how I get the dual readings:

    1a. Professor Villa was amazed by her students working as hard as they did.
    1b. Professor Villa was amazed by her students, who, by the way, were working as hard as they did.
    1c. *Working as hard as they did, Professor Villa was amazed by her students.

    Sentence 1a. (gerund) and 1b. (participle) work, but 1c. (participle) doesn't work: the participle phrase modifies the subject, Professor Villa.

    Now, to the second example. I get a potential dual reading on 2b. (participle):

    2a. The class working collaboratively was somebody else's idea.
    2b. The class that was working collaboratively was somebody else's idea.
    2c. ?Working collaboratively, the class was somebody else's idea.

    2c. is semantically awkward. The reason being, omit the participle phrase and
    a different meaning from 2a. results:

    2a. Working collaboratively was someone else's idea.
    2c. ?The class was somebody else's idea.

    Now, the last example. 3b. works as a participle, whereas 3c. doesn't: the participle is dangling.

    3a. It was a case of old age getting the better of them.
    3b. It was a case of old age that was getting the better of them.
    3c. *Getting the better of them, it was a case of old age.

    All the best.

  6. #6
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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    I actually don't get dual readings. To me it looks like this:

    Possessive = gerund; non-possessive = participle.

    Adjective-or-adverb test:

    ["a case of old-age swiftly getting the better of him" and "a case of old-age's swift getting the better of him" ] vs. *["a case of old-age swift getting the better of him" and "a case of old-age's swiftly getting the better of him"]

    ***

    The second example is a bit more complex:

    2.ba "The class that were working together was somebody else's idea," means that they formed a new class, since the head noun is "class" (the class [defining participle phrase] was "somebody else's idea").

    2.bb "That the class work together was somebody else's idea," means that the "working together" of an existing class was "somebody else's idea". Here "working together" serves as the head of the noun phrase and "the class'" as the modifier.

    "The class working together" is certainly compatible with 2.ba. I'm still trying to figure out whether it's also compatible with 2.bb. Logically, it isn't, but common usage might validate such a meaning.

    The class' working together" is, however, only compatible with 2.bb.


    ***

    Whether I find "amazed by her students working as hard as they did" acceptable depends on wether "the class working together" (above) is compatible with 2.bb. In any case, "the class' working together" is safer, I find. I wouldn't second the advise (but I'm not dismissing it either).

    ***

    When I was still learning English terminology in school, gerund vs. participle confused me quite a bit. I simply ignored the difference (using "ing-form", instead, for both) and was fine. I hear the Cambridge Grammar advises against making the distinction, too, and use the term "gerund-participle". Can anyone confirm this (and possibly summarise their reasoning)?

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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    I hear the Cambridge Grammar advises against making the distinction, too, and use the term "gerund-participle". Can anyone confirm this (and possibly summarise their reasoning)?
    The following is taken from the Language Log: A Participle too far?

    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has a section (p. 82) with the heading "A distinction between gerund and present participle can't be sustained". Some highlights:
    Historically the gerund and present participle of traditional grammar have different sources, but in Modern English the forms are identical. No verb shows any difference in form ..., not even be. [Thus] we reject an analysis that has gerund and present participle as different forms syncretised throughout the class of verbs. We have therefore just one inflectional form of the verb marked by the -ing suffix; we label it with the compound term 'gerund-participle' ..., as there is no reason to give priority to one or the other of the traditional terms. [...] This grammar also takes the view that even from the point of view of syntax (as opposed to inflection) the distinction between gerund and present participle is not viable, and we will therefore also not talk of gerund and present participle constructions [...].
    There's an excellent paper on the topic called Ing forms and the progressive puzzle: a construction-based approach to English progressives by Seung-Ah Lee. Journal of Lingistics 43 (2007), 153-159. She writes:
    "A closer look at this approach, however, reveals that it faces a serious problem. Notice that Huddleston (2002b: 1220) includes all constructions headed by 'gerund-participle' verbs under a single category 'gerundparticipial clauses' This lumping together of two different constructions obscures the all-important point that one, but not the other resembles noun phrases. Contrary to pedagogical grammarians, generative syntacticians disregard the formal identity between present participles and gerunds. Instead, they have tended to favour unifying derived and gerundive nominals."

  8. #8
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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    Thank you everybody.




    [I posted this post to reserve this thread in my list for my future reference]

    Sorry for waste of your time.

  9. #9
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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    Thanks, Casiopea, for the information.

    I think this Language Log post may be where I came across this puzzling idea first. I can see the first part of the quote (formally, there's no difference, so having one term for a multi-functional form might make sense). What's puzzling me is the line: "This grammar also takes the view that even from the point of view of syntax (as opposed to inflection) the distinction between gerund and present participle is not viable..." I suspect its explained (or at least implied and illustrated) in the Cambridge Grammar.

    As I see it:

    Writing is hard. -- Syntactically ambiguous (difference irrelevant, though).
    Writing well is hard. -- Unambiguously a participle (- X-ing well).
    The writing of novels is hard. -- Unambiguously a gerund (- The X of Y).

    So, how would I refer to the difference, according to the Cambridge Grammar? Non-finite verb in dependant clause for the participle and verbal noun/nominal verb for the gerund? And both take the gerund-participle form? Or do they deny that there is a difference (even harder to imagine)?

    Lee's article sounds interesting. I may check it out next time I'm near a University. :)

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    Re: Gerund or participle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    Thanks, Casiopea, for the information.
    You're welcome.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm
    What's puzzling me is the line: "This grammar also takes the view that even from the point of view of syntax (as opposed to inflection) the distinction between gerund and present participle is not viable..." I suspect its explained (or at least implied and illustrated) in the Cambridge Grammar.
    In short, it's about redundancy. Ing forms look the same, so having two ing categories, one nominal and one verbal, in the grammar storehouse is a waste of space, which is why the two are unified, and done so under the category verb. That category has more of a variety of ing forms than does Noun. No surprise they unified the two in the lexicon. That kind of move is expected from Generative grammarians: to them, it's all about efficiency.

    As for the syntax, 'the distinction [gerund, and participle] is not viable'. In other words, gerunds function as subject and as objects, participles do not. Where they sit in the sentence determines their meaning. The syntax tells us whether or not an ing form should be interpreted as a noun, an adjective, or as part of a verb. That's efficiency, at least, the generative way of doing things.

    So,

    Writing is hard. <subject>

    Writing well is hard. <subject>
    Note, participles cannot function as subjects; gerunds can take adverbs; they are, after all, verbal; e.g., Eating well is important.

    The writing of novels is hard. <subject>
    Note, "the" requires a noun.

    Those who work in Generative grammar tend to focus more on structure. Speakers, on the other hand, tend to focus more on meaning. That's why learners face so much confusion with gerunds and participles. They're looking at the meaning of, say, "Writing" and how it plays in the sentence, whereas Generative grammarians look at the sentence as a template that words fit into. Of course, meaning is also important, but that can be derived, for the most part, from where a word sits in the template. Find out where the word is sitting and its meaning will follow; that's the basic idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm
    So, how would I refer to the difference, according to the Cambridge Grammar? Non-finite verb in dependant clause for the participle and verbal noun/nominal verb for the gerund? And both take the gerund-participle form? Or do they deny that there is a difference (even harder to imagine)?
    Both are referred to as gerund-participles, alphabetically labelled, <g> before <p>. (I'll use GP.) If a GP sits in a subject or object position, it's interpreted by speakers as a gerund. If a GP sits in a non-subject or a non-object position, it's interpreted by the speaker as a participle.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm
    Lee's article sounds interesting. I may check it out next time I'm near a University.
    You can access it on-line. Go to your search engine and type in the title.

    All the best.

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