For example:

  • I apologized for being rude to Paul.

  • Being kind is a virtue.

  • His being dishonest did not help him socially.

These phrases are clearly functioning as nouns but the participle (being) seems to be functioning more like a verb than a noun. Are these noun phrases or verb phrases functioning as nouns? And how should being be classified as word (PoS)? Is it a participle, a verb or a gerund? This is really just a question about syntax, I understand what these phrases mean. I'm more interested in the terms of analysis.

  • No, they are not nouns, they are all gerund-participial clauses with "being" as the verb, and the adjectives "rude/kind/dishonest" as predicative complements of "being". "Being rude ..." functions as complement of "for"; "being kind" functions as subject; "being dishonest" is the predicate verb phrase of the clause "his being dishonest", which functions as subject.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 10:10
  • Although not wrong, I think the last example is awkward. I'd avoid it. Better to say "His dishonesty did not help him socially".
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 10:24
  • @BillyKerr I agree it's awkward, but for some reason, I think it's somewhat more dynamic than his dishonesty: it describes his behavior rather than his character. What say you? Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 10:41
  • @user178049 - I'm honestly not sure about your suggestion - I supposed that could be argued. But it's awkwardness alone is enough for me want to change the wording. If I wanted to specifically mention his behaviour, then I'd probably say "His dishonest behaviour ...". Perhaps my perception of awkwardness here is because I'm British. Perhaps Americans find this more acceptable.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:36
  • I didn't say they were nouns. One is the object of a preposition, two are subjects and here's one as an object - 'Try being kind.' These roles are usually taken by nouns, hence they function like nouns, in the position of subject, verb complement and landmark of a preposition, or complement as is preferred by some. I thought of seeing them as clauses, as a version of - It did not help him that he was dishonest. I think that seeing these as clauses is the best answer. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


"These phrases are clearly functioning as nouns but the participle (being) seems to be functioning more like a verb than a noun"—nouns and verbs aren't grammatical functions; they're word classes (or parts of speech). So it doesn't make sense to say a word functions as a noun or as a verb.

"Is it a participle, a verb or a gerund?"—this doesn't really make sense either. Gerunds and participles are verb forms. You shouldn't mix them with word classes in the same category.

They're all gerund-participial clauses*: Being rude to Paul functions as the complement of the preposition for; His being dishonest and being rude both function as subjects.

*We no longer distinguish between a gerund and a present participle. Some grammarians shove them together into a single compound term gerund-participle.

  • Yes. Small point: in the OP's example, the gerund-participial in full is "being rude to Paul" where the PP "to Paul" is complement of "rude".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:09
  • Word classes absolutely represent grammatical functions, words alone do not. A word doesn't have a class or function until it is used in a phrase of some kind. Gerunds are participles that sometimes function like a noun - I like swimming - a verbal noun, and sometimes more like verbs - I like swimming in the ocean - more like a verb. The term gerund participle makes no sense to me. A gerund is a participle. The terms participle noun, participle verb, and participle adjective would make more sense. Where did you get that statement "We no longer..." from? Also there's an adjective in there. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:16
  • @UbuEnglish There's nothing wrong with user 178049's answer; it accords perfectly with modern grammar which does not distinguish gerund and present participle simply because there's no need to, which is why the ing forms are called gerund-participles, and the clauses they head are called gerund-participial clauses. The two most influential grammars of the last 50 years, CaCGEL (Quirk at al) and CGEL (Huddleston &Pullum) are in agreement on the point that ing words are a single item in the verb paradigm, hence the term ‘gerund-participle’. You really need to keep up with modern grammar.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 17:21
  • I think you're overestimating CGEL's impact and prevalence in modern grammar, which in my experience has no real standards, and is pretty much a mixed bag. What I wanted was some insight into the linguistic feature I'm asking about, not an argument about terminology. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 18:10
  • @UbuEnglish If you're aware of GGEL's grammar, why did you ask user178049 where they got the term 'gerund-participle' from? And in any case your question was answered perfectly by user178049. They answered your question satisfactorily. Read your question again and you'll see that you asked about analysis, and that means identifying categories and functions.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 18:37

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