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Is it your being or you being here?
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Comments  (Page 2) 
Aileen -- many thanks for your comments, and for providing the site for the Cambridge Grammar book. I'm on the third chapter and have have found it fascinating so far.

Miriam -- here's another example I'd like you to take a look at.

Consider this sentence:

I can't stand his drinking beer.

Should "drinking" be analyzed as a gerund or a verb? Let's do a couple of experiments with this sentence and see what happens.

On one hand, "drinking" looks like it is the object of a possessive, something that shows it to be a noun. On the other hand, it seems to be taking a noun object, "beer", which shows it to be a transitive verb. Which is it?

If "drinking" were a noun, it couldn't take an object such as "beer" without the preposition "of". If we add an adjective, we force it to become a noun:

I can't stand his constant drinking of beer.

But look what happens when we add an adverb instead:

I can't stand his constantly drinking beer.

Here, "drinking" must be a verb since it's being modified by the adverb "constantly". The preposition "of" has been dropped, and "beer" has been moved back into its earlier position as the object of "drinking". But the possessive adjective "his" is retained! Since the sentence is grammatical, this supports the notion that a possessive can sometimes act as the subject of a present participial verb.

If one accepts this reanalysis of the possessive adjective "his", a case can thus be made that "drinking", in the original sentence, is a verb:

I can't stand his drinking beer.
Now I'm swamped with this I think...
I have a problem with your sentence "I can't stand his drinking beer." because I cannot really analyze what "his" is referring to.

"his" as you said is a possessive pronoun, therefore requires a word, usually a noun or an equal phrase that it would refer to - in this case "drinking beer" - am I right?

If I understood that correctly, this would mean that "drinking beer" were indeed a noun, and now I've come to a point where I can't follow anymore:

With my Sprachgefühl (feel for language), I would also classify "beer drinking" as a noun rather than a verb the way you do - see, I wouldn't have a problem if the sentence was "I can't stand him drinking beer" (this one is clear so far, "drinking" here, is a gerund as "can't stand" always requires a gerund) but this of course does not work in "I can't stand his drinking beer", where "drinking" from my (maybe wrong(?)) point of view would be a noun, sort of a verbal noun: "'the' drinking(-beer)".

BUT: If I was correct in this case, I'd rather say that the noun had to be "beer-drinking" rather than "drinking-beer": "I can't stand his beer-drinking". Here, it is obviously a verbal noun: the (beer-)drinking, which is required because of the possessive pronoun.
AND: If you widened the sentence, the preposition 'of' would become necessary: I can't stand his way of drinking beer - but in that case, drinking is a gerund which is required because of the preposition 'of'.

I'm sort of confused now, but maybe you can help me out a bit and enlighten me?!
The more I think about it, the more complex it gets... but I'll post this for the beginning though as I was already dealing with it for a certain time!
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Dave,
First of all, and even when everyone is surely aware of this, I must insist that even when I believe my knowledge of the English grammar is good, I'm not a grammarian or a linguist. It would be completely absurd for me to try and analyse a language that is not even my own in depth when I lack many of the necessary tools for doing so. So, I can only offer my opinions and comments based on the literature I've read on the subject throughout the years.
I think this "disclaimer" is necessary because I wouldn't claim to have half the knowledge that grammarians possess.

Anyway, I've read the thread and I'd rather agree with Pem's analysis than with the one provided in that new grammar book. I truly fail to see a very logical reasoning in the analysis made in the book. Let me tell you why.

"The traditional reason for analyzing 'being' as a gerund in [2] is that it appears to be the object of the possessive adjective 'your'. In a normal noun phrase, a possessive determiner cannot be omitted."
Is that truly the reason for considering 'being' as a gerund? Or is it, rather, the other way around? Since the gerund in English has "nominal force", it can function in a way similar to a noun, and that's why it can take a determiner.
I think you've showed my point yourself when you spoke of a "normal" nominal phrase. The gerund, in English, is not a noun. It indeed acts as a noun, but it has limitations. The gerund is a "verbal" or "non-finite" form of a verb, that is, it cannot function as a main verb. So, even when the gerund acts as a noun in English, it is still a verb form, and this has important implications.
We see gerundive constructions as nominal clauses (or phrases, depending on the author). However, when we analyse a gerundive construction internally, we still bear in mind that the gerund is originally a verb form, and its modifiers within the construction will reflect that as well as its function as a noun. This used to sound complicated to me when I first studied it, and I still think it is not one of the easiest concepts in English grammar to grasp.

I think it is important to say here that there are four degrees of nominalisation in the case of the gerund.
1. In "The office you're looking for is in that building over there", "building" is an example of a completely nominalised gerund. It has all the characteristics of a noun.

2. We can also have a gerund as premodifier of a noun, as in "walking stick" (= a stick for walking).

3. The third degree is called "fact-action" nominalisation by some authors; the fact is emphasised here. The usual structure of a gerundive construction of this type is:
definite article
possessive adj. + (adjective) + gerund + of + nominal phrase
genitive

"The quick building of the school surprised him." 'Building' here is not exactly the same as the 'building' in the first example.
"His quick solving of the problem is a sign of intelligence."
"I like my daughter's reading of poetry."

4. "Way-gerundive" nominalisation. The way in which an action is performed is stressed in this case, and the usual trsucture is:
zero article
possessive adj. + gerund + nominal phrase + adverbial (usually of manner)
genitive
"Building the school quickly was a good decision on the part of the authorities."
"His solving problems quickly is a sign of intelligence."
"I like my daughter's reading poetry."

I believe the above explanation makes it moreclear to see why we cannot treat a gerund completely as a verb or as a noun. Again, if we focus on the form of the word, it has a verbal element. If, on the other hand, we focus on its function and meaning, it has nominal force. My point here is that it would not be wise to expect the gerund to have all the properties of either a verb or a noun, but it has characteristics of both at the same time.

I also do not see a problem with the sentence "I can't stand being here". You used a to-infinitival clause to replace "being", and that is ok since the infinitive in English is similar, in one of its functions, to the nominalised gerund.
"I don't like to be here." = "I don't like being here."
But, at the same time, the following sentence is both grammatically correct and meaningful: "I hate to box but I like boxing."

There is something you said about this comparison of the infinitive and the gerund that I do not understand:
"We interpret the above to mean 'I can't stand MY being here". The significant point here is that the presence or absence of the possessive is not like that in noun phrase structure. It is more like the presence or absence of a subject in a to-infinitival:
I can't stand to be here.
To be here is awful.
The issue is resolved by reanalyzing the possessive adjective in 'I can't stand his being here' as a clause subject."


What exactly do you mean by a "clause subject", please? And why is a possessive adjective a clause subject?
Also, in which of the two examples above, in your opinion, does the to-infinitival clause (not the sentence) have a subject? I cannot find a subject in either.

I'll respond to your second post in a while. I'm taking a short break now Emotion: smile
I swear I did write a second post, but it's gone now! ~groans~
Miriam,

Many thanks for your thoughtful expansion of Pem's analysis. I'll first address the specific questions you've raised, then re-state more thoroughly the case which the Cambridge book is making for the gerund's redefinition.

Consider the following two sentences:

1. I can't stand your being here.
2. I can't stand your haircut.

A dependent genitive such as "your" requires a noun object. What follows a dependent genitive is, therefore, surely a noun or noun-like. This fact supports the conclusion that "being" in [1] is what is traditionally called a gerund.

The suggestion that "being" might be a verb with "your" as its subject seems absurd: a dependent genitive (e.g. your, our, my, their) cannot fill this role. The following are ungrammatical:

3. His car is blue, but my is red.
4. Our is the right way.

We are traditionally taught that the gerund is a noun-like form that retains some of the characteristics of a verb, and as such is distinct from the present participle. This is, as you noted, a very confusing concept in English grammar.

Some -ing forms really are full-fledged nouns: words such as "building" are, as you said, completely nominalised. But does "building" in "that building is over there" really belong in same category as "being" in [1]? To say that a word is part-noun, part-verb: does that not violate the very idea of what a noun is?

The Cambridge authors would sooner bend other grammatical rules than blur the fundamental distinction between noun and verb. For example, they would consider the dependent genitive in a sentence such as [1] to be a acting as a subject, something that [3] and [4] show as being completely ungrammatical. This they justify in part by pointing out other ways that the dependent genitive in [1] behaves differently from that in [2]. For example, what happens when it is omitted:

5. I can't stand being here.
6. I can't stand haircut.

In [5], the meaning has changed but it is not ungrammatical. They see this as showing "subject-like" behaviour on the part of the dependent genitive, analogous to a to-infinitival that remains grammatical when stripped of its subject:

7. I arranged for him to leave the country.
8. I arranged to leave the country.

Note that the authors consider the "for" in [7] as belonging to the category of subordinators, and to be marking the beginning of a subordinate clause in which "for him" is the subject of the to-infinitival.

At this point I'd like to add a disclaimer of my own. My background is electrical engineering, not English. When I recently took on some English teaching work, I realized that I knew very little about grammar. Since none of the other teachers at the school -- and I'm curious if this is typical -- knew much about grammar, I realized I'd have to learn it on my own. The books I initially found weren't satisfactory, so I ordered Quirk's "A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language". While on Amazon, I read a review that mentioned the Cambridge book so I ordered it as well.

I had previously assumed that English grammar was a static field: that it had been boiled down to a set of fixed rules and lists of exceptions, and that any controversy as there once may have been had long since died out. I was surprised and excited to realize that quite the opposite is true.

The rules of grammar as traditionally taught represent a view of linguistics that is decades out of date. Yet linguistics research has up to now had very little influence on commonly-accepted methods of analyzing English grammar. Why? Because it tends to be so dense and jargon-saturated that no one but linguists can understand it. With the publication of the Cambridge book, that has changed. It's clear, it's understandable, and it represents a serious challenge to the old ways of thinking about grammar.

While I've made my best attempts to paraphrase some of the points that the book is making, whatever I write is obviously a very poor (possibly even misleading) substitute for reading the book itself -- something I'd urge you to do.

I'll conclude with a verbatim excerpt concerning the topic we're discussing:

A gerund is traditionally understood as a word derived from a verb base which functions as or like a noun, as in:

Destroying the files was a serious mistake.
I regret destroying the files.

"Destroying the files" could be replaced by "the destruction of the files", where "destruction" is clearly a noun. The formulation "as or like" is used in talking of the functional resemblance between a gerund or a noun, leaving open the issue of whether the word is a verb or a noun. Dictionaries tend to define the gerund as a verbal noun, but there are strong grounds for analysing "destroying" in [both sentences] as a verb, and for drawing a distinction between such words and others ending in -ing which genuinely are nouns and which we refer to as "gerundial nouns":

He was expelled for killing the birds. [form of verb]
She had witnessed the killing of the birds. [gerundial noun]

The verb-forms are traditionally divided into gerunds and present participles, as illustrated in:

Gerunds:
Inviting the twins was a bad mistake.
We're thinking of giving them one more chance.
I remember seeing them together.
She found talking to Pat surprisingly stressful.

Present participles:
Those living alone are most at risk.
Not having read his book, I can't comment.
She is mowing the lawn.
We saw him leaving the post office.
I caught them reading my mail.

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 forms in [the above examples], not even "be". The historical difference is of no relevance to the analysis of the current inflectional system. We reject an analysis that has gerund and present participle as different forms syncretized 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" for the verb-form, 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.

In summary, words with a verb base and the -ing suffix fall into the following three classes:

1. She had witnessed the killing of the birds. [gerundial noun]

2. a. He was expelled for killing the birds. [gerund-participle form of verb]
b. They are entertaining the prime minister. [gerund-participle form of verb]

3. The show was entertaining. [participial adjective]

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Note: following is the definition they give for the term "syncretism":

When two or more lexemes are identical we say there is "syncretism" between them, or that they are "syncretized". For example, there is syncretism between the preterite [past tense] and past participle of "want": both are realized as "wanted".
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Dave,
I can understand the fact that you find this book you've discovered fascinating.
It is difficult for me, though, to discuss grammar and/or linguistics in depth with you. In my opinion, it is one thing to favour a certain approach to a topic after you have considered several different approaches, and it is something different to to it when you perhaps lack a bit of background.
Now that you've said you are not a teacher, it is easier for me to see why you say some of the things you've posted.
First of all, I don't know how typical it may be in other countries for teachers of a language not to know the grammar of that language, and still be allowed to teach. Even if they are not going to teach grammar itself I mean here grammatical awareness, rules, etc I cannot understand how they can teach properly without knowing the grammar of that language themselves -as well as many other things.
In my country, if you want to become a teacher of English, you'll have to go to university for 5 years, and you'll be required to have a high level of English in order to be admitted since the lessons are taught in English. The course has now a new plan has been implemented 30 subjects.
I don't know why the teaching profession is considered so diferent from other professions in so many parts of the world. If I said "I'm a teacher but I'm going to some medical work soon", people would look at me as if I were out of my mind. People would not be allowed to just "take on" a different profession; it is dangerous for all the parties involved. But education is not taken seriously everywhere, it happens in my country too. A real teacher may end up working in a school with someone who remembers some of the English they learned in high school. If you ask me, there is a world of a difference between both; there is a difference between people who work as teachers and people who are teachers.

Once more, I understand that you like that grammar, but that I'm afraid does not make some of your statements true.
For example, you said that "The Cambridge authors would sooner bend other grammatical rules than blur the fundamental distinction between noun and verb".
I'm not sure what exactly you mean by that, but what you call the fundamental distinction between noun and verb is not absent in the treatment of the gerund in traditional and other grammars.

You also say "Note that the authors consider the 'for' in [7] as belonging to the category of subordinators, and to be marking the beginning of a subordinate clause in which 'for him' is the subject of the to-infinitival."
The truth is that "for" does introduce nominal clauses not only because these authors say so. You could read the same thing in many other grammars by different authors. You could find it in grammars written more than 60 years ago.

"The rules of grammar as traditionally taught represent a view of linguistics that is decades out of date. Yet linguistics research has up to now had very little influence on commonly-accepted methods of analyzing English grammar. Why? Because it tends to be so dense and jargon-saturated that no one but linguists can understand it. With the publication of the Cambridge book, that has changed. It's clear, it's understandable, and it represents a serious challenge to the old ways of thinking about grammar."
I really don't know where you got this idea, but it isn't comletely true either. The rules of grammar that people consciously or unconsciously use today cannot possibly be "out of date". The grammar of English is "descriptive" rather than "prescriptive". english-speaking countries don't have a "Real Academia de la Lengua" or anything similar that tells people how they should speak. There are, however, certain accepted rules that derive more from actual use than from prescription on the part of linguists and grammarians. Have you read Halliday, or Lyons, or even Chomsky? Judging from what you've posted, I think you'd be surprised if you read them.

I fail to see how the classification the Cambridge grammar provides can make things any simpler than they are now. The label "gerundial noun" seems redundant to me, and I think that "gerund-participle" would be certainly confusing to students.

Finally, I'm not saying that this grammar will not make interesting reading. What I'm trying to emphasise is the fact that a teacher has to be very very careful in the selection of criteria, approaches, authors and teaching materials. And in order to make a suitable choice, the teaches has to be familiar with as much as is possible of what is available.

I have a colleague who teaches English History, you know? She has Marxist ideas, and that is about all she knows, so that is what she teaches. So, in the end, she does not really teach history, but history from her point of view. As a consequence, many things are left out and the students never actually learn history. The same happens, in my opinion, when we teach a language, or the grammar of a language. Unless we've read, studied and analysed different approaches, we will have little room for choice, and our knowledge will be limited. I believe that, even when we are probably not going to teach our students everything we have learned, the more we know, the more helpful we will be to them, and the better teachers as well.

Miriam

BTW, have a look at the "Commonly faced problems" thread? You'll see a post you'll find familiar there. ~winks~
Miriam,

Your points are well taken. What you are saying makes sense.

As you say, there is no central authority dictating the way people must speak and write, and even if there was, it would be ignored. What may be outdated -- and this is by no means certain -- are the rules commonly used for analyzing grammar. The authors Huddleston and Pullum make what seems to be a convincing case for this in their book. But that's just my impression; you'd have to read it yourself and make your own judgement.

I will do as you suggest and look at other approaches to this topic before deciding which to favour. And I certainly don't plan to use this forum as a platform for disseminating the viewpoint of any one particular book. In fact, I plan to confine my future posts mostly to matters of semantics and style, where I think I can make a useful contribution, and to leave the hard analysis to non-amateurs.

DA.