I have these sentences:

  • You know they don't allow eating and drinking in here.
    (From Oxford practice Grammar, Advanced)

  • We don't allow smoking in the hall.
    (From Oxford dictionary)

How can we know that the -ing forms are not used as verb but as a noun?

  • Yes the sentences are correct. When an -ing word is used for an activity, that's how we know it's being used as a noun (a gerund).
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 10, 2022 at 9:27
  • @BillyKerr Gerunds are always verbs heading Verb Phrases whose entire clause is used in syntactic roles requiring a Noun Phrase, typically a subject, object, or predicate nominative. Witness: “Smoking cigarettes is just like slowly killing yourself.” Notice how those -ing verbs accept object complements and manner adverbs, something nouns never do. (They also reject adjectives.) Although NPs in English can be infinitive clauses and gerund-participial clauses, that in no way makes those clauses somehow become nouns. They aren't; they're still 100.00% verbs all the way through.
    – tchrist
    Jul 10, 2022 at 16:27
  • 2
    @Madhi, take the word and drop what comes before it: Eating and drinking are not allowed here. Does that work? Yes. For learning and practical purposes: eating and drinking are the subjects of the sentence and are gerund nouns. Fancy linguists will call those "noun phrases" but I do not.
    – Lambie
    Jul 10, 2022 at 17:44
  • 1
    @Lambie There's no such thing as "a gerund noun", which is an oxymoron. Please don't answer in comments.
    – tchrist
    Jul 10, 2022 at 20:40
  • 1
    @Lambie Being a subject like this never makes a phrase into a noun because a subject is a syntactic constituent and not a part of speech. Given how you’ve mixed up parts of speech with grammatical role/functions, I beg you: please stop using the word ‘gerund’ because your misuse of it can only confuse learners. You cannot for example apply an adjective to a gerund, only an adverb, because it’s only ever a verb. ‘Gerund’ is neither a part of speech nor an inflectional category, and blurring those all together with actual grammatical functions can only make confusing things worse. See my answer.
    – tchrist
    Jul 10, 2022 at 23:38

1 Answer 1


How can we know that the ‑ing forms are not used as a verb but as a noun?

The only way you can tell whether an ‑ing word is actually a noun or a verb is to see whether you can:

  1. Do "noun things" to it, like:
    (A) modify it with an adjective "a big X-ing", or
    (B) use it in noun-only constructions such as "the X-ing of Y" where you connect two noun phrases with a preposition.

  2. Do "verb things" to it, like:
    (C) modify it with a manner adverb like "Y-ly X-ing", or
    (D) use it with an object complement like "X-ing the Y".

However, this doesn't matter at all. Believe it or not, you do not need to know this.

All you need to learn is what things the verb allow can accept following it, not whether each possible use of this or that random ‑ing word following it is a noun or a verb or an adjective. That never matters at all.

To that end, the allowable predicate frames for allow are shown here in its Lexico entry. And for your purposes, what allow accepts really boils down to either one or two object complements, both of which are always noun phrases.

  • When there are two object complements, the first noun phrase represents the person being allowed to do something and the second noun phrase is an infinitive clause saying what that person is being allowed to do. (This works almost like the verb works in let someone do something, except that with allow the to particle must be explicit in allow someone to do something.)

  • When there is only one object complement, this is a noun phrase naming just what it is that's being allowed, as in allow horses or allow horse racing or allow racing horses. This single noun phrase cannot be an infinitive clause, but it can be a gerund-participial clause with an ‑ing verb heading it, as in allow doing something like allow smoking a cigarette or two during your lunch break.

All these examples following are grammatical. The first three examples and example (9) all take two object complements, while the rest all take just one object complement. Sometimes these complements are nonfinite clauses headed by a verb; other times they're noun phrases that are headed by a noun or are just a personal pronoun by itself in object case such as you or me or him or her.

  1. We cannot let you race your turtles here. (race is a verb here)
  2. You are not allowed to race your turtles here. (race is a verb here)
  3. We cannot allow you to race your turtles here. (race is a verb here)
  4. We cannot allow racing turtles slowly here. (racing is a verb here)
  5. We cannot allow racing slow turtles here. (racing is a verb here)
  6. We cannot allow the racing of slow turtles here. (racing is a noun here)
  7. We cannot allow slow racing turtles here. (racing is a noun here)
  8. We cannot allow slow turtles racing here. (racing is a verb here)
  9. We cannot allow slow turtles to race here. (race is a verb here)
  10. We cannot allow slowly racing slow turtles down our racetrack. (racing is a verb here)
  11. We cannot allow turtle racing here. (racing is a noun here)
  12. We cannot allow more time for turtle racing. (racing is a noun here)
  13. We cannot allow more time for turtles racing so slowly. (racing is a verb here)
  14. We cannot allow more time for racing slow turtles. (racing is a verb here)
  15. We cannot allow your slow racing turtles any more time to finish the race. (racing is a noun here)
  16. We cannot allow your turtles any more time to finish slowly racing down our course. (racing is a verb here)

As you see, I've gone to the trouble of adding a few extra words around any ‑ing words to help make it clear whether the complementary noun phrase's head is a noun or a verb. I did this only because you asked, not because it matters at all. That's because, just as I said starting out, whether an ‑ing word happens to be a noun or a verb doesn't make any difference when it comes to knowing which sorts of predicate frames are grammatical with allow.

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