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What a good parent should also do is spending time with their children.

The model answer is to change 'spending' to 'to spend'. To me, spending and to spend are the noun phrase, the former being a gerund while the latter being an to-infinitive strucutre. I don't understand why the gerund is not used correctly.

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    Spending is wrong. And I’d say that even better than to spend is simply spend. Compare, “When I need to relax, what I do is play the piano.” Or “If you want a lower-fat version of the recipe, what you can do is reduce the amount of butter.” Nov 9, 2023 at 15:00
  • Hm... I'm not able to articulate the answer well, but sentence order matters here. "Swimming is what I like to do" = OK. "What I like to do is swimming" = not idiomatic. Even "What I like to do is to swim" is clunky, like the sentence you gave; "I like to swim" would be more comfortable. Nov 9, 2023 at 15:00
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    The word do determines the choice. What a parent likes is spending time with their children. What a good parent should do is spend time with their children.
    – TimR
    Nov 9, 2023 at 15:02
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    What a good parent should be doing is spending time with their children.
    – TimR
    Nov 9, 2023 at 15:06
  • @TimR, your explanation is quite good. I encourage you to make it an answer. Nov 9, 2023 at 15:08

1 Answer 1

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With sentences of this structure: "What someone [verb] is [non-finite complement clause]", the form of [verb] determines the form of the verb in the complement clause.

It will always be a non-finite nominal form of the verb in the complement clause because the verb form must be able to occupy the nominal slot created by the interrogative pronoun "What".

What is he doing?

-- Taking the baby to the pediatrician.

not

What is he doing?

-- *Takes the baby to the pediatrician. ungrammatical

Finite verb takes (3rd person singular present) cannot fill the slot created by What, but a non-finite form can fill that slot.

So, on to your good parent examples.

What a good parent should do is spend time with their children.

do expresses the notion perform (generic) act, and so we need a non-finite verb form that expresses the idea of "perform (specific) act", and that form is the unmarked infinitive, spend.

What a good parent should be doing is spending time with their children.

There, because of doing, we need a non-finite verb form that expresses action-in-progress or habitual action, and that form is the verb's participial form, spending .

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