I came across this sentence on a Britannica page:

The titles of Jakobson’s works indicate the expanding scope of his research

Why is expanding used here instead of expansive? Is expanding a commonly used adjective? Any difference from expansive?

  • No, "expanding" doesn't have the lexical properties of an adjective. It's best seen as a verb phrase functioning as a modifier of "scope". Semantically, "expanding" means that the scope of his research is still growing, while "expansive" implies that it has reached a large size.
    – BillJ
    Mar 14, 2018 at 18:51
  • 4
    @BillJ the way I was taught grammar, "expanding" is the present-participle form of the verb "expand", and thus could be used three different ways: 1) to form the present progressive tense 2) As a participial noun 3) As a participial adjective. This is #3. Mar 14, 2018 at 21:08
  • Maybe I'm off base here, but I believe for this to act as an adjective (in the sense of only describing the noun), the word choice would have to be expandable, that way it could speak to the potential type of scope, and not the action that is taking place, or has taken place upon the scope. I'm not saying this is the only possibility, however for strict clarity of adjective vs verb, I believe that it is note worthy.
    – Rick Riggs
    Mar 15, 2018 at 2:13
  • On another note... What if this sentence was rendered this way: The titles of Jakobson's works indicate the scope of his research **is** expanding. I believe that this may have been Lambie's comment. is takes on the verb (state of being) and expanding still expresses the progressive "action" state of the research; Because it speaks to its state, it can still be equated to describing the noun scope.
    – Rick Riggs
    Mar 15, 2018 at 2:35

3 Answers 3


Expansive means the scope of his research is already large, while expanding means the scope of his research is still continuing to grow larger.


Expansive means "very large", while expanding means "becoming progressively larger".

If the scope of Jakobson's work is expansive, then we'd expect the titles of his works to cover many different subjects - that is, the scope is very large.

If the scope of Jakobson's work is expanding, then we'd expect later titles to cover more subject areas than the earlier ones do - that is, the scope gets larger over time.

  • 2
    This is the right answer, but let me build on it. The concept being discussed in the article is presented in the past continuous tense. In other words, at the time the aticle is referencing with this sentence, Jakobson's research was incomplete. Because you can match the adjective with the tense, you should. Thus "expanding" (an ongoing action) is used. Had the sentence been describing his research at the end of his life, it could use "expansive" (past simple, the action is complete to the adjective should be, too) to describe the final volume of his research.
    – JBH
    Mar 14, 2018 at 16:19
  • I just do not understand comments that misquote a question. The question is in the present simple. There is no past continuous tense here at all. Expanding here is a simple adjective. Gerunds in English can be adjectives.
    – Lambie
    Mar 14, 2018 at 16:49
  • @Lambie, I apologize if I've offended you. Please review how the adjective "expanding" is being used in the Britannica article. You'll discover that the context of the sentence (not the question) is past continuous: a statement of condition at a past point in the article subject's life. I noted in my comment that I was discussing the concept and did not realize I needed to be specific that it was not a discussion of specific sentence structure. Note that the adjective "Expansive" would have been inappropriate for the article author's purposes due to the author's context.
    – JBH
    Mar 14, 2018 at 17:54

Looking up expanding on Wiktionary we see:



present participle of expand

The page for Glossary: participle says:


A form of a verb that may function as an adjective or noun. English has two types of participles: the present participle and the past participle. In other languages, also future, perfect, future perfect participles.

So, to answer the question title, all participles, including expanding, may act as adjectives.

expanding means it's still growing (present participle). The main meaning of expansive is "comprehensive".

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