For example, in a sentence:

If you've got bags, you're better off taking a taxi.

What part of speech is the "taking a taxi" part? Is it a gerund or a participle?

I know the difference between these parts of speech (or at least, I hope so =)). I'm asking this because the phrase "be better off" is totally senseless to me, and currently I'm just taking for granted the scheme of mixing "be better off + ~something~?".

  • Does this answer your question? The difference between the gerund and the participls Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 14:04
  • The phrase "taking a taxi" is a participle here. If you cannot replace it with a noun, then it isn't a gerund. Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 14:05
  • "Taking a taxi" is a clause. Incidentally, gerund and participle are not parts of speech, but simply different kinds of non-finite verb. Trad grammar analyses "taking" as a present participle, but modern grammar calls it simply a gerund-participle.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 14:31
  • Semantically, the idiom "better off" means "in a better position". You could have found that out by looking in a dictionary.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


Ever wonder if you'd be better off dead? 

We can hope not.  It isn't a pleasant idea.  It is, however, a common enough cliche and a useful example. Here, the thing that follows "better off" is the common adjective "dead". 

You're better off dead. 
You're better off taking a taxi. 

The first example here gives us reason to speculate about a dead person.  The second, a person taking a taxi.  Both of these structures, the common adjective "dead" and the participial phrase "taking a taxi", serve an attributive function.  They are acting as modifiers, not as nominative references. 

When an -ing form does the same job that is typical of a common adjective, the traditional label for that form is present participle

  • [to be] better off or worse off

is an idiomatic expression or idiom.

Idioms often function in peculiar ways that have their own logic. Native speakers know how to use them instinctively (they are learned by being heard when used by other native speakers as one grows up, etc.)

Better off (or worse off) can be followed by clauses introduced by now that, after x, or if x or a gerund or gerund phrase or prepositional phrases or just an adjective.

Let's take a look at these examples from the Collins Dictionary:

better off in CD

be better off

  1. to have more money than you had in the past or more money than most other people:
  • Obviously we're better off now that we're both working.
  • When his parents died, he found himself $100,000 better off (= he had $100,000 more than before). [adjective]
  1. to be in a better situation, if or after something happens:
  • He'd be better off working for a bigger company.
  1. implies if = He'd be better off if he were working for a bigger company.

That said, we can turn the sentence another way.

  • Working for a bigger company, he is now better off.
  • Working for a bigger company is a good thing.

working for a bigger company = a gerund phrase.

But even: "He is better off working" or He is worse off not working", are gerunds. WHEREAS: "He's better off at home". is a prepositional phrase. "She's better off rich". is an adjective.

[I think I covered most of these idioms' peculiarities alluded to above. The point for a learner is to internalize examples so as to be able to refer to them in the future. ]

Non-gerund nouns cannot come after "to be better" or "to be worse off": For example, "You'd be better off a bird" is not grammatical and would be said: You'd be better off as a bird. I suspect that this is because better off follows the comparative rule for better: "You'd be better as a bird".


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