Tuesday, June 20, 2006

plural gerunds

A general rule for gerunds that our workbook gives is that gerunds are singular. This is accurate in most cases because most gerunds serve as non count or uncountable nouns and do not have a plural form. For example, in the sentence, Skiing is my favorite winter activity., skiing is always singular and can not be counted. As I wrote before, this guideline is accurate in most cases. However, a few gerunds can be countable and have a plural form. In the Collins COBUILD English Grammar, there is a list the more frequent gerunds that have plural forms.

beginning feeling meeting setting turning
being finding offering showing warning
building hearing painting sitting
drawing meaning saying suffering (page 28)

The writers point out that many of these words have different meanings in the plural form than in the verb form. One example of this difference is the word feel.

As a verb, feeling refers to the sense of touch, health or mood.

She is feeling the roughness of the fabric.
He is feeling a little sick from the long ride.
She is feeling sad that her sister could not come along.

As a noun, feeling refers to the sense of touch, emotions, or opinions.

The feeling in his hands returned as his hands warmed up.
His has mixed feelings about this trip.
Their feelings were that the judge was unfair.

When we rely on the guidelines that gerunds are singular, we should keep in mind the exceptions listed above.


Brett said...

I think this simply confuses two different classes of words. In fact, the whole idea of gerunds in English is confused. "Gerunds" are not, as is commonly taught, nouns. Nouns are modified by adjectives, not adverbs; nouns do not take object complements.

-Running _quickly_ is tiring.
-Listening to music is fun.

The words you list here ARE nouns; you could call them gerundial-nouns if you wish. They don't take adverb modification or object complements.

Similar problems exist with the traditional concept of participial adjectives.

Brett said...

Sorry, the "Listening to music" example doesn't exemplify. "Eating _lunch_ is important" shows the "gerund" taking an object.

John said...

I appreciate the clarification. I was trying to make the point that gerunds serve in the place of nouns, but it isn't as clear as I hoped it would be. Furthermore, I was attempting to clarify what the workbook we use for the writing class says and the actual situation. What you say about gerunds being modified by adverbs is very helpful, and I will try to use it the next time I teach gerunds.

I am not sure though whether by two classes of words you mean gerunds and nouns or some other classes. Could you please clarify?

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tootsie said...

Gerunds are awkward. To twist a noun--keyboard--into a word that functions as a verb--keyboarding--seems incongruous, but this happens all the time and new English words can be created. Therefore, many people attach an -ing to a noun with expectations of clarity, or because there is no other word suitable. What single verb could replace the gerund keyboarding? English can handle this, but sometimes there is no sense when using many nouns as new –ing words.

In addition, some people use many -ing words and speak as if an event under discussion is happening currently. "Walking down to the post office yesterday, standing on the curb, a cop was ticketing a pedestrian for jaywalking." Since this happened in the past, shouldn't one use the past tense? "When I walked to the post office yesterday, I witnessed a cop who stood on the curb when he gave a ticket to a pedestrian for jaywalking." Is "jaywalking" another of those words that can be made plural by adding an 's' to form "jaywalkings?" And, if one is a pedestrian out for a walk, would that person be "pedestrianing?" (Now that is awkward.)

My understanding of gerunds is that by adding an –ing to some noun, a word becomes a kind of a verb—an in between word called a gerund--but the noun and gerund do not always and necessarily maintain any relationship in definition to one another, e.g., a new play on Broadway, or playing a game.

John said...

Gerunds are not usually considered nouns with an -ing added; instead, they are made from the present participle then function somewhat like a noun in that they can fill the subject or object function in a sentence.

I have a little problem with your example sentence "Walking down to the post office yesterday, standing on the curb, a cop was ticketing a pedestrian for jaywalking." Is it the cop who was walking and standing? The two phrases are participial phrases used at the beginning of the sentence to describe someone. See http://mongryl.com/grammarshed/participial.phrases.html for more explanation of participial phrases with examples. This also points to my problem understanding who is walking and standing because participial phrases usually come before the person who did the activity.

Now if we can back up a little bit, I think we could say that the cop was walking down the street, and the cop was standing on the corner. We remove the cop because we are going to use him or her as the subject "was ticketing." If we do this, we have two participial phrases describing the cop before we have the noun being described.

Second, we already have a fine word for two or more people jaywalking in the word jaywalkers.

If you look at Brett's comment, you can see an explanation of how gerunds differ from nouns.

Greg said...

I believe some of us are just forgetting about homonyms. Some gerunds can take on a noun-like nuance or a verbial nuance under the same spelling (in its bare form).

Most of these words take on a whole new definition when in plural form - that's because they're homonyms. Just try placing an article in front of some of the gerunds listed. The article clarifies the difference in meaning. (A building vs building)

Plural forms imply a past form nuance while the singular form implies a simple present nuance (the general act of the referred term) compared to ((completed) acts of the referred term) as communicated through the plural form. If this applies to what a speaker is referring to, it is possible that these gerunds match the singular forms of nouns that don't require an article. Obviously, in the case of “building” versus “buildings,” the general“act of building” differs from “multiple structures” as referred in the latter.

Therefore, gerunds CAN belong to the same category as the singular noun forms that don't require an article since they both resist the plural form under the same meaning.

A simple comparison: Gerunds vs Nouns

Noun: Racism is horrible.
Gerund: Discriminating against other races is horrible.
-Also, anything wrong with the sentence "discriminating is horrible"?

Both imply: The general idea and practice of racism/discriminating is horrible.

Flight is scary.
Flying is scary.

The general idea and practice of flight/flying is horrible. We don't care about who or what is flying. This is why we can choose gerund phrases to match specific nouns that carry the same connotation.

Murder is wrong.
Killing is wrong.

The general idea and practice of murder/killing is horrible.

*It seems that using the singular form strengthens a conceptual nuance of the referred term.

--Sorry if some of the content doesn't seem completely related. I modified a copy&paste from an assignment I've been working on. I'd love any feedback you could provide.

John said...

Thank you Greg, I find some of your analysis very helpful. Putting the article in front of the word does distinguish between the countable nouns and the gerunds well.

ck said...

which is correct..."feelings that come back are feelings that never go away.." or "feelings that come back are feelings that never goes away.."

Beco said...

Is the word of "respondings" a valid plural gerund?

Unknown said...

First one but I can only say it sounds correct. I can only justify it by saying that you seem to be referring to things that ( i.e. Feelings) that occur indefinitely. Thus you wouldn't refer to them in past or future tense ( gone or goes) as per my understanding. You could say feelings that come back have never really gone away etc. I'm not a grammar expert I only base my understanding of grammar on intuition. But the second sentence seems inherently wrong

paulsmith198914@gmail.com said...

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