Safire on participles and gerunds

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Dec 24 05:03:13 UTC 2007

Safire writes 'When the -ing form of a verb is used as an adjective,
it is a participle; when used as a noun, it is a gerund.  Thus, "I am
thinking" (participle form of verb); "a thinking reader" (adjective,
participle); "thinking is dangerous" (noun, gerund.'

But if "the -ing form of a verb used as an adjective" makes it a
participle, how can "thinking" in "I am thinking" be a participle,
since in that sentence "thinking" is not an adjective?  Or is "the
-ing form of a verb used verbally" *also* a participle?  The OED2's
sense 2 of "participle" doesn't help me much:  "A word that partakes
of the nature of a verb and an adjective (or 'noun adjective'); a
derivative of a verb which has the function and construction of an
adjective (qualifying a noun), while retaining some of those of the
verb (e.g. tense, government of an object); a verbal
adjective."  Surely a word does not simultaneously (that is, in a
single sentence) have both the function of an adjective (qualifying a
noun) and at the same time that of a verb (with tense and an
object)?  And surely the so-called participle itself does not have
tense; it is the auxiliary ("am") that has tense?

With some puzzlement (particularly as the most difficult decision I
face with when submitting to the OED is to decide whether an -ing
form goes in as a verb or a noun; thank goodness I don't have to
decide whether it is a participle or a gerund!),


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list