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Cigarette smoking is harmful to our health.
Smoking cigarettes is harmful for our health.

Playing football is beneficial to our health.
Football playing is beneficial to our health.

Are all the sentences given above correct? If they are not, please explain!

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  • Grammatically, yes. Playing football is about as harmful as smoking, though.
    – user105719
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 12:26
  • Is "football playing" idiomatic?
    – Hunter
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 12:46
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    Certainly, as a check of a couple of corpora shows. Football playing is far less common that playing football, but the latter cannot replace the former as a modifier: "My football playing days are over.") and in instances like this one I found: "if momentum is going to explain successful football playing...."
    – user105719
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 23:33

1 Answer 1

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Smoking can be a verb or a noun. It is the action of smoking (eg "he is smoking a cigarette") and also the name of the habit of smoking tobacco (eg "the effect of smoking on health").

  • "Smoking cigarettes" is a verb followed by a noun.
  • "Cigarette-smoking" is a compound verb.

So, they are different, even though they mean the same. "Smoking" as a verb alone is very non-specific as it could refer to the smoking of other substances, or even other methods of delivering tobacco, not just cigarettes. So you need both ways because you'll often need to clarify it.

"Football" doesn't need any the same kind of clarification. It is the name of a game, and you play games. So you can say "playing football" to denote that you are participating in it (as opposed to passively watching it) but "football-playing" is not idiomatic as it is somewhat unnecessary.

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  • Cigarette smoking is not a compound verb. Smoking is a noun modified by the noun cigarette.
    – Hunter
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 12:42
  • Smoking is a verb, @Hunter.
    – Corsaka
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 14:19
  • @Corsaka It's also a noun. It is the name of the habit of smoking tobacco. Google "smoking definition" and see what comes up. ;)
    – user103227
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 14:50
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    The contention here arises from the confusion of form (i.e., a word’s lexical properties) and function (i.e., how the word operates within the structure of a sentence). Smoking is a verb: it’s the present participle of the verb to smoke. As a verb in a clause, it can take a subject and an object (I saw him smoking a cigar.) Nouns can’t do that. On the other hand, smoking cannot be pluralized the way nouns can: smoking two cigars doesn’t give rise to smokings. (con't->)
    – user105719
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 23:49
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    (<-con't) That’s form. When we get to function, we find that smoking can take the same roles as nouns — subject (“Smoking is bad for you.”), object (“I quit smoking.”), and attributive (“Smoking jacket”). This isn’t to say that present participles can’t become nouns. When they do, they take noun forms, e.g, saying meaning aphorism. The plural sayings is now possible. When this happens, the noun often has a specialized meaning. A saying is just not anything someone says.
    – user105719
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 23:50

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