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In the sentence "I can't stop thinking about you" is thinking a verb or a gerund? I'm a little bit confused, because there is already one verb stop.

  • Three words: Stop doing that. – Robusto May 28 '17 at 14:08
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    I think what Robusto meant to say is that you should stop distinguishing between gerund and participle. You can call them both "gerund-participles". Btw, to answer your question, it's a gerund because it's used as an object of a verb which is usually realized by a noun phrase. – user178049 May 28 '17 at 14:29
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    No:"stop" is a catenative verb, and "thinking about you" is a catenative complement headed by the verb "thinking". The term 'catenative' is derived from the Latin word for "chain", and applies where two or more verbs occur consecutively, as "stop" and "thinking" do in your example. – BillJ May 28 '17 at 14:39
  • Folks: Please stop answering questions in comments. – Ben Kovitz May 28 '17 at 14:42
  • This answer might help you recognize what is what ell.stackexchange.com/a/94887/3463 – Man_From_India May 28 '17 at 14:43
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I can't stop thinking about you.

"Stop" is called a catenative verb, and the non-finite clause "thinking about you" is a catenative complement headed by the gerund-participle verb "thinking".

The term 'catenative' is derived from the Latin word for "chain", and is used to describe clauses where two or more verbs occur consecutively, as "stop" and "thinking" do in your example.

  • Would it be fine if I call "thinking about you" a gerund(-participle) clause in order to avoid the arcane term "catenative"? – user178049 May 28 '17 at 14:48
  • @user178049 Yes, in this instance it is a gerund-participial clause in complement function. But if you drop the term 'catenative' you risk losing the grammatical rationale for not calling the clause a direct object. Note that infinitival clauses can also be catentive complements as in "I want you to go into town for me". – BillJ May 28 '17 at 14:52
  • @user178049 Indeed "catenative" is an arcane term—but a really good one, IMO, if you know that it's an adjective for "chaining". Including that in the explanation is helpful. It's way more suggestive and elegant than "gerund-participial clause", which seems to me quite clumsy. But I think this answer would be better if it made clear that this terminology is quite esoteric, known and used almost exclusively by linguists. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) – Ben Kovitz May 28 '17 at 15:51
  • The crucial point is that "thinking" is a verb, not a noun, and it is not a direct object. – BillJ May 28 '17 at 18:48
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    @BenKovitz Of course it's a verb, as is evidenced by the fact that it can be modified by an adverb and take a direct object, e.g. "I can't stop constantly thinking nice things about you". Nouns cannot be modified by adverbs nor take direct objects. – BillJ May 29 '17 at 5:44
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Words for actions

It's a gerund.

Thinking is being used as a noun. It's the object of the verb stop. It's like the nouns after stop in these sentences:

You can't stop progress.

I can't stop the celebration now. The musicians are already playing and everyone is already dancing.

Not even the governor can stop the execution now.

Each of these examples uses a noun to refer to an action now in progress, just like thinking.


Adding -ing can also make a verb into a kind of adjective, called a present participle. Here are two examples of thinking as a present participle:

You can't stop a thinking person.

Someday, the human race will be destroyed by thinking machines.

Don't get hung up on terminology

There are some special conventions for using the -ing form of verbs in this kind of context, though. Without an article, the gerund gets modified by adverbs, like a verb, and the subject of stop is normally understood to be the subject of the gerund:

I can't stop bleeding. [I am bleeding and I can't stop.]

I can't stop financially bleeding. [I'm losing money and I can't stop.]

Because of this sort of convention, some people prefer to say that thinking is part of the verb or that it's both a gerund and a participle or that your question is meaningless. (That's why your question got some strange comments.) I think you shouldn't get hung up on terminology. If you know what modifies what, and what are the conventions for implied subjects and which kind of modifier to use, you'll be fine.

Adding an article, or treating the gerund as a mass noun, makes it feel more like an ordinary noun, so it gets modified by adjectives and no longer adopts the subject of stop:

I can't stop the bleeding. [Maybe I am bleeding, maybe someone else is bleeding. The sentence doesn't imply either.]

I can't stop the financial bleeding. [Here you use the adjective financial instead of the adverb financially.]

I can't stop thinking about you. Thinking about you will happen all over the world as long as you are famous.

The last example is strange, but it illustrates the principle.

Thinking is not a verb, at least not in the strict sense of "verb" that contrasts with "gerund". It can't make an assertion:

I thinking about you right now.

This is what the continuous present tense looks like:

I am thinking about you right now.

  • Does the downvoter think the OP should get hung up on terminology? – Ben Kovitz May 28 '17 at 16:01
  • I think it's better to threat the entire "thinking about you" as a gerund clause. Also, "I can't stop financially bleeding" doesn't sound right to me. And I think there are some problems and vagueness in the last paragraph. Not my DV though. :) – user178049 May 28 '17 at 20:47
  • @user178049 Thanks for explaining. This answer uses ordinary grammatical terminology to address the OP's question. Ordinary terminology isn't as fine-grained as what linguists use, and it serves different purposes. Also, hardly anybody understands the linguists' terminology. – Ben Kovitz May 28 '17 at 20:56
  • @user178049 BTW, which paragraph are you referring to? The last one I see is "I am thinking about you right now" or "This is what the continuous tense looks like: …", depending on what you consider a whole paragraph. – Ben Kovitz May 28 '17 at 21:01
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    @user178049 You're right "not to get it". It's clearly a verb since it can be modified by an adverb and take a direct object, e.g. "I can't stop continually thinking nice things about you". Nouns cannot be modified by adverbs nor take direct objects. – BillJ May 29 '17 at 6:18

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