If i want to say:

  • Helping people is a proof of being kind-hearted

  • People helping is a proof of being kind-hearted

Don’t these two sentences give the same exact meaning?

More examples:

  • Studying English is complicated.
  • English studying is complicated .
  • The meaning may not change, but the first form is more idiomatic. – J.R. Mar 29 at 0:31

In the phrase studying English, English is the object of the gerund studying.

In the phrase English studying, English is an attributive noun of the gerund studying.

The first means the studying of English, presumably meaning the language. The second means studying in an English manner, whatever you might think that means.

Likewise, helping people has people as the object of the gerund helping. The sentence as a whole means that a person who helps people is proven to be kind-hearted.

Now, people helping could be read in two ways. You could read it with people as an attributive noun, which would most likely make it near enough synonymous with helping people. I wouldn't expect it to be read that way, and if I wanted people to read it that way, I would hyphenate it as people-helping. Well, I wouldn't, because I would write it in another way, but if I had to use those words in that order to have that effect, I would hyphenate it. Come to think of it, if you hyphenated in the other example, to make English-studying, it might tend to be read as what you are saying it should mean. In both cases, though, it would be weird, not idiomatic, and frankly verging on unnatural.

The more usual way to read it would be that the people are the subject of the verb. It would then mean the fact that people help is a proof of..., which then wouldn't make sense with ...being kind-hearted, but would make sense with ...kind-heartedness. That would then mean that the fact that people do help each other indicates that there is such a thing as people being kind-hearted.

So, no, in neither case does it mean the same thing when you swap the word order. It changes the parsing, and will change the meaning in most cases. Word order matters.

  • As far as i am concerned, if not mistaken, that gerund can be modified by an adverb but not attributive noun! – Bavyan Yaldo Apr 1 at 4:32

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