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

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  • @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
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    @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
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    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

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

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