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I know that the word "distinguishing" is not a gerund. what is it then?

I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing Spanish from Portuguese.

source:"https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/distinguish"

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    It's a present participle. "Distinguishing Spanish from Portuguese" is a participial clause functioning as catenative complement of "have".
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 9:04
  • Some linguists will refer to both as the verb's "-ing form" (see here/here). But here it's functioning as a verb not a noun (you couldn't use a noun there).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 9:15
  • It's not a verb because it doesn't have a subject pronoun. You can't say "I distinguishing" - that only works if you have a be in there e.g. "I am distinguishing" but that's not the case here. Valid roles are only participle (=modifier) or gerund (=noun).
    – LawrenceC
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 14:44
  • @LawrenceC Non-finite clauses don't usually have overt subjects. Instead the subjects are determined in other ways. Here, the matrix clause has the verb "have" as its head verb, which means that the referent of "I" was having the diffiiculty, and this is enough to tell anyone the understood subject of "distinguishing".
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 9:47

2 Answers 2

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I sometimes have difficulty [distinguishing Spanish from Portuguese].

No: it's not a gerund.

This is a catenative construction where "have" is a catenative verb with the bracketed present-participial clause functioning as its catenative complement.

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I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing Spanish from Portuguese. = I sometimes have difficulty in distinguishing Spanish from Portuguese.

In is a preposition. A preposition can be put before a noun. A gerund (verb + ing) is used as a noun. Here 'distinguishing' is a gerund.

[I have difficulty distinguishing... = It is difficult for me to distinguish...]

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