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I was given the following task:

Correct the mistakes in the forum message:

Can anyone helping (1)? I’ve just got my essay to write about personality but the articles I’ve found are too difficult for me to read. Then I realized the real problem is my poor vocabulary. When I reed (2) quickly I can’t understand the real meaning of the article and the only way I can understand it is by using my dictionary all the time. I’m reading so slowly it’s going to take me about three weeks to finish the writing (3). What can I do about my English vocabulary? I’m worried so (4).”

(1), (2) and (4) were a piece of cake:

  • helping – help
  • reed – read
  • worried so – so worried

But what about (3)? My teacher told that “the” should be removed (the writing – writing), because, according to her “Gerunds don’t take articles”. With this statement I find it hard to agree – take, for example, the ninth chapter of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” – “The Writing on the Wall” or the ELL question Cases of using an article before the gerund. But what is the mistake then?

The task comes from “Speakout” student’s workbook.

P.S. The book says that the correct answer to question 3 is essay/paper/assignment (type of mistake - wrong word)

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    There is no syntactical mistake. However, there is a difference between before I finish writing (verb) and before I finish the writing (noun). – Jason Bassford Jun 7 at 19:48
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    As I said, they are both okay. (Although the writing can also be interpreted in two different ways. One is the resulting piece of writing, the other is the writing process. But both of those are fine too.) – Jason Bassford Jun 7 at 21:33
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    I'm not sure if "Writing" in "The Writing on the Wall" is a gerund. This is an interesting question. – J.R. Jun 7 at 21:52
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    Maybe the "so…that…" structure. "so slowly that it's going to take me about 3 weeks…". – xbh Jun 8 at 3:05
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    “I’m worried so” is used dramatically and in older English societies. Think medieval period drama on TV when a woman in a corset says to her husband, “don’t go, I worry so!” But the forum post author probably doesn’t mean it this way ;) – Arseniy Banayev Jun 8 at 14:29
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Gerunds can take articles. There’s a matter of degree between pure English gerunds (“I like computing”) and verbs that have fully become nouns (“the painting by Van Gogh”). When pure English gerunds have an article, it becomes a little more abstract, almost as if you’re talking about all instances of the gerund and not just one. But when verbs that have fully become nouns have an article, it is much more specific, and the distinction between present participle and gerund is much more clear.

(In this forum post though, since the author has already demonstrated poor English ability, I would be inclined to say that he meant “writing” and not a more abstract “the writing”.)

Don’t worry, gerunds are a difficult and shaky concept in English. It’s a Latin word which refers to a Latin grammatical construct, and the English “equivalent” is quite different.

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