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In 1993, she became the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel prize in literature.

If recieving is used instead of to receive, how does it sound?

  • It would sound strange; but, more than that, it still wouldn't be a gerund. Receiving, in that case, would be the present participle. Are you asking specifically about the use of gerunds (which this isn't an example of)—or simply about the -ing form of verbs in this kind of construction? – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Mar 28 at 2:13
  • Ah oresent participle, now i got it . The reason why it sounds strange is maybe because participle indicates the action is already ongoing, right? – yoonjin kim Mar 28 at 4:01
  • While she was receiving is fine (although not in this specific sentence), she became receiving is simply unidiomatic. I'm hesitant to call it flat-out ungrammatical in any context, but it certainly seems ungrammatical in this context. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Mar 28 at 5:08
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In comments under the question, it became clear that the question wasn't so much to do with gerunds as it was to do with the -ing form of the verb. (In this case, it's a present participle rather than a gerund.)

So, the question really is, are both of the following okay:

✔ In 1993, she became the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel prize in literature.
❔ In 1993, she became the first African-American woman receiving the Nobel prize in literature.


These are all grammatical:

In 1993, she received the Nobel prize.
In 1993, she was receiving the Nobel prize.
In 1993, she became famous, receiving the Nobel prize.

If we change the meaning and construction of the sentence, we could write something like this (which does use a gerund):

In 1993, she became a receiving clerk at the Nobel prize office.


We could even say this—although it would be strange:

In 1993, she became a woman receiving the Nobel prize.

It sounds strange because the natural interpretation based on the syntax, which makes little sense, is that she spent all of 1993 being a woman in the process of receiving the prize.

In theory, and stretching credulity even more, we could say that she became famous for being the woman who spent the whole year receiving the prize:

In 1993, she became the woman receiving the Nobel prize.

By extension, and with that entirely unlikely interpretation, the original sentence seems grammatical:

In 1993, she became the first African-American woman receiving the Nobel prize in literature.

→ In 1993, she became the first [of many] African-American women [to spend that year] receiving the Nobel prize in literature.


However, it's unidiomatic and confusing, it makes use of elided phrasing that wouldn't normally be assumed to be omitted, and it definitely sounds strange, because it doesn't seem to describe anything that could happen in reality. Unless using it in some kind of contrived situation (such as this answer), I would keep to receive in your sentence and not think about using receiving.

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