0

"They prefer buying organic food " in this phrase " buying " us a verb or a noun ...?

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Nov 26 '18 at 12:30

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • @Chappo A gerund is only ever a verb. A gerund clause is an NP, though, and thus can be a subject or an object. But it’s still only a verb, accepting adverbs and objects and rejecting adjectives and noun inflections. "Easily buying food" is different from "the easy buying of food": only the former has a gerund buying and thus a verb; the latter has a noun buying that is not a gerund and thus not a verb. – tchrist Nov 26 '18 at 6:57
  • @tchrist while I hedged slightly by saying "like a noun", your full answer has thoroughly informed me - I've added this to my favourites for future reference :-) – Chappo Nov 26 '18 at 7:09
  • 1
    @tchrist I hope the world still stands upright. A gerund is a noun form, with no riders. "A gerund is only ever a verb" turns everything on its head. – Kris Nov 26 '18 at 9:01
  • 2
    It's a verb. The traditional definition of a gerund is a word derived from a verb base which functions as or like or a noun. But that is non-committal as to whether the word is actually a verb or a noun. In your example, traditional grammar calls "buying" a gerund because functionally it is similar to the noun “food” in “environmentally-friendly food” – the similarity between the verb-form “buying” and the noun “food” being that they both head expressions with the same function, i.e. complement of “prefer”. – BillJ Nov 26 '18 at 14:15
1

Nouns can­not have di­rect ob­jects; on­ly verbs can.

Buy­ing is a non-fi­nite tran­si­tive verb whose di­rect ob­ject is the noun phrase (NP), or­gan­ic food, which it­self com­pris­es an at­trib­u­tive ad­jec­tive fol­lowed by its noun.

The sub­ject of your sen­tence is third-per­son per­son­al pro­noun They, and the fi­nite verb cor­re­spond­ing to that sub­ject in num­ber is pre­fer. The ob­ject of the verb pre­fer is the en­tire non-fi­nite verb phrase buy­ing or­gan­ic food.

Be­cause the syn­tac­tic roles of a sen­tence’s sub­ject and ob­ject(s) must be them­selves noun phras­es, that means that the sub­ject and ob­ject are both NPs — even though nei­ther is a noun! A pro­noun is one type of NP, and an ‑ing gerund–par­tici­ple verb clause is an­oth­er type of NP. They still aren’t nouns, of course.

Another kind of NP is the in­fini­tive clause, an­oth­er type of non-fi­nite verb clause that can take an ob­ject. So these two are equiv­a­lent:

  1. They pre­fer buy­ing or­gan­ic food.
  2. They pre­fer to buy or­gan­ic food.

In both those sen­tences, the on­ly noun is food. Other NPs there of course are, but on­ly that one noun alone.

To un­der­stand how English works, or in­deed any hu­man lan­guage, you need to go be­yond triv­ial parts of speech that ap­ply to sin­gle words on­ly, nev­er to mul­ti­word phras­es. You need to look at the gram­mat­i­cal roles that the var­i­ous syn­tac­tic con­stituents are play­ing, and for that you need a more mod­ern mod­el of lan­guage than the ba­by steps that Δι­ον­ύσ­ιος ὁ Θρᾷξ (Di­ony­si­us Thrax) gave us with his eight icon­ic parts of speech lo these twen­ty-one hun­dred years ago.

  • I don't know if this scholarly exposition would benefit an essentially ELL question in any way. MISS? – Kris Nov 26 '18 at 9:03

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.