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... Hooke had previously elaborated on René Descartes’s notion of light as pressure waves transferred through an “aether” that permeates space. He concluded that colors embodied weak and strong components of light that become visibly distinguishable due to varying degrees of efficiency in penetrating transparent media, such as very thin glass plates. Newton used a similar approach to arrive at a new hypothesis in which light consists of uniquely colored particles that are easily separated by refraction at the surface of a transparent medium...

As I know penetrating can be functioning as a verb "in penetrating [transparent media]. Penetrates ( something)

And could function as an adjective, so would describe the following phrase ( penetrating transparent media). Something that can be penetrating)

What does the word penetrating function as an adjective or a verb and why? In other words is "in" of media or penetrating?: in media, or in penetrating?

Give me the meaning of "penetrating transparent media"

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  • Could be either one. Detailed knowledge of what is being described is needed to decide. Do you have a source or additional context?
    – user3169
    Sep 28, 2017 at 0:50
  • media do not penetrate, so penetrating here is what light does, not what the media do. It is not adjectival but verbal. Moreover, efficiency in wants to be complemented by some kind of action or doing (i.e. penetrating). It would say "efficiency of" if media was the object of the preposition; efficiency in...media is ungrammatical.
    – TimR
    Sep 28, 2017 at 1:34
  • ...visibly distinguishable by virtue of light's varying efficiency when penetrating a transparent medium
    – TimR
    Sep 28, 2017 at 1:41
  • If this was a question on a quiz show, I'd call this a gerund since it's the quality of being able to penetrate transparent media. It feels like a noun.
    – Andrew
    Sep 28, 2017 at 5:54
  • @user3169 I added the other part of the article.
    – user59167
    Sep 28, 2017 at 11:35

3 Answers 3

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He concluded that colors embodied weak and strong components of light that become visibly distinguishable due to varying degrees of efficiency in penetrating transparent media, such as very thin glass plates.

This "penetrating" is a gerund.  The gerund phrase includes the verb's direct object, "transparent media".  The phrase serves a substantive role as the object of the preposition "in". 

We could paraphrase it by changing the gerund to a noun and letting its direct object serve as the object of another preposition:

in the penetration of transparent media

A gerund is a non-finite form and does not take a subject, but it does take a semantic agent or actor -- in this case, the weak and strong components of light.  We can paraphrase this sentence using that as a subject and a finite form of "to penetrate" as a verb in the active voice:

He concluded that weak and strong components of light penetrate transparent media (such as very thin plates of glass) with varying degrees of efficiency, making them visibly distinguishable as colors. 

 

In what you called an adjective use of "penetrating", the semantic agent follows the participle: penetrating transparent media would mean transparent media which penetrates something else. 

That's a plausible interpretation, except that that would leave us with no semantic patient or theme for the verb "to penetrate".  Very thin glass plates could penetrate something, but we have no idea what they might penetrate or how glass penetrating anything has an effect on light. 

 

By interpreting "penetrating transparent media" as a gerund phrase, we can find both agent and theme for the verb.  The agent is the subject of the clause that contains the phrase*, and the patient is the direct object of the gerund.  Light penetrates a medium, and the penetration has an effect on the light. 

_______________ 

* Technically, the subject of the clause that contains this gerund phrase is the relative "that".  Of course, "that" relates the subordinate clause to "weak and strong components of light".  That phrase in turn is the direct object of "embodied", and so cannot directly serve as the subject of anything.  When I say it is the subject, I mean the referent and not the phrase.

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Is there a substance called "penetrating transparent media"?

  • If so then colours may have efficiency in it. This also assumes that colours may have efficiency intrinsically rather than having efficiency in doing something. It could also being expressed as "... varying degrees of efficiency within penetrating transparent media, ..."

  • If not, then the colours have efficiency in penetrating and the "transparent media" is the thing that is being penetrated. This could also being expressed as "... varying degrees of efficiency in the penetration of transparent media, ..."

As far as I know, there is no material called "penetrating transparent media" so "penetrating transparent media" is a gerund describing the act of penetration.

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He concluded that colors embodied weak and strong components of light that become visibly distinguishable due to varying degrees of efficiency in penetrating transparent media, such as very thin glass plates.

The relevant clause could be paraphrased:

...visibly distinguishable by virtue of light's varying efficiency when penetrating transparent media.

You could understand penetrating transparent media there as a (non-finite) clause, not as a noun-phrase with media modified by two adjectives.

The author has written "efficiency in" which wants a nominal complement. Penetrating can thus be understood as "light's varying efficiency in [its penetration] of transparent media".

The light penetrates. The medium does not penetrate.

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