There is no telling where he has gone.

In the above sentence, Is 'telling' noun or participle?

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    Surely it's both? What difference does any answer here make? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 11 '19 at 16:24
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    Knowing the precise part of speech in a random sentence is something that has value for satisfying some teachers, but not for any other purpose. – John Lawler Jul 11 '19 at 23:00
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    Knowing the category (part of speech) is crucial to understanding syntax. Don't let others tell you otherwise. "Telling" is a verb (see user 178049's correct answer). If you didn't know that, you wouldn't be able to tell whether "telling where he has gone" was a clause or an NP. – BillJ Jul 12 '19 at 7:55

"Telling" here is a verb in the form of gerund-participle. This is a special case where a verb phrase takes a pre-head dependent that is characteristic of the noun phrase structure.

Huddleston & Pullum (2002: 1189) refer to this as a Hybrid Construction. A hybrid construction with "no" is virtually restricted to the there-existential construction.

Another common instance is "there'll be no stopping her". Note that it takes a direct object, a kind of dependent that's only admissible in a verb phrase structure.

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    Spot-on answer! – BillJ Jul 11 '19 at 18:06

Since a participle is a verb form being used as a noun, this is a distinction with little or no significance. Moreover "there is no telling" (meaning there is no way to determine) is an idiom, and as such may violate normal principles of grammar.

  • Is in in fact an "idiom"? I'm never too sure where the boundary lies, but if so, I wonder if that also applies to, for example There's no stopping him, and/or There's no waiting around with my dentist. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 11 '19 at 16:31
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    I think of an idiom as a somewhat commonly used phrase, whose overall meaning cannot be determined from its separate elements, or is different from the ordinary meaning of its elements. Often an idiom is based on a metaphor, perhaps one now so common that it is elided or shortened in the idiomatic phrase. It seems to me that "there is no telling" fits this definition. – David Siegel Jul 11 '19 at 17:07
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    That's right. Idioms are non-compositional -- their meaning can't be determined by composing the meanings of their parts together. And they almost always call for particular lexical items in unusual senses and constructions. Basically, they're language chunks that have become stuck together and won't come apart, like a tinkertoy assembly that's been left out in the rain too long. So we use them like they were individual words instead of phrases or phrase templates – John Lawler Jul 11 '19 at 22:58
  • "Telling" is a verb, not a noun. Participles are not verbs being used as nouns. What on earth gave you that idea? – BillJ Jul 12 '19 at 7:57
  • @Bill My memory was at fault. From Wikipedia: "A participle (PTCP) is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase, and plays a role similar to an adjective or adverb" And by the way "telling" can be a straight adjective "That was a telling comment" or "a telling blow". – David Siegel Jul 12 '19 at 13:08

idiomatic phrase: There is no telling

to tell here means to discern, to be able to understand a situation.

telling is a gerund noun in that phrase.

I can't tell whether the food is good or bad.

To tell=to discern, distinguish, identify, etc.

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