4

I have been reading this paper and the following sentence is quite confusing to me:

Hiking interest rates to get inflation under control when unemployment is rising could push unemployment even higher. Cutting interest rates to stimulate the economy could produce more inflation.

My question is, whether "Hiking" and "Cutting" are verbs, or gerunds?

I had a look at this question which has a very complete answer, but it really confuses me the fact that in my sentence the subject ("Interest rates") is followed by the preposition "to" which is used with verbs, but in the question I linked, the verbs starting with -ing are gerunds. Thank you for your time.

15
  • 1
    'Hiking' is a verb. If 'Hiking interest rates' were a noun phrase, then the sentence would need different construction, such as "Hiking interest rates that get inflation under control..." Dec 8, 2023 at 19:09
  • 4
    I can only read the hiking and cutting as sentence subjects. It is not true that interest rates . . . could push unemployment higher. Only hiking them could do that. Dec 8, 2023 at 19:27
  • 1
    You mean like rising inflation? No. More like Eating dessert is fun. Dec 8, 2023 at 19:32
  • 2
    @CeliusStingher You are correct, "hiking" and "cutting" are gerunds and both function as the subject of the sentence. However, because a gerund is a form of a verb which is used as a noun (as opposed to a 'normal' noun like "table"), it can still be modified by adverbs/adverbial phrases. The phrase starting with "to" in the first sentence is an (adverbial) infinitive phrase expressing purpose, and it modifies the word "hiking." "Interest rates" is the direct object of "hiking," and together with it makes up the noun phrase "hiking interest rates" - i.e. the whole phrase functions as S Dec 8, 2023 at 20:22
  • 5
    @WeatherVane ‘Hiking interest rates’ is a noun phrase: it’s a gerund with an object. If it were not a noun phrase (or a clause equivalent to a noun phrase), it would not be able to function as the subject of a finite verb (could). Your alternative reading uses hiking as a participle, adjectivally modifying interest rates, which also results in a noun phrase, just a different type of noun phrase. Dec 9, 2023 at 12:19

2 Answers 2

6

Gerunds/participles are a form of a verb. The clause that is headed by an -ing verb can be a subject. But first remember that all gerunds are verbs.

The subject in these sentences isn't "interest rates". Considering the second sentence, the subject is, "Cutting interest rates to stimulate the economy". This long subject is headed by the -ing verb, "cutting". The word "interest rates is the object of the -ing verb "cutting". The infinitive clause, "to stimulate the economy" is a catetative clause, it gives the the purpose of "cutting interest rates".

The word "to" is a subordinator that marks the infinitive "stimulate..." as a subordinate clause.

So we have the rough bracketing

[subject 
   [-ing verb Cutting] 
   [object interest rates] 
   [
       [subordinator to] 
       [infinitive verb stimulate]
       [object the economy]
   ] 
 ] could...

Now you may have read that "A gerund is an -ing clause that functions like a noun" or even "Gerund clauses are nouns". This is confused and confusing. Nouns are words. Verbs are words. Adjectives and prepositions are words. Nouns can head noun phrase. Adjectives can head adjective phrases. Verbs head clauses.

The subject of a clause can be a noun phrase or a subordinate clause, such as a clause headed by an -ing verb. This doesn't mean that the clause "acts like a noun", it just means that the subject of some clauses is a subordinate clause.

Nouns can be modified by adjective phrases (often just a one-word phrase) or by participle clauses, or by relative clauses, or by other nouns. Again the fact that a participle clause is modifying a noun doesn't mean it is "acting like an adjective".

Finally note that not every word ending in "-ing" is a participle. There are some adjectives and nouns that have derived from participles. If you write "He's living in a boring building" then "living" is a participle, "boring" is an adjective, and "building" is a noun.

10
  • 1
    Thanks for your answer, in terms of classifying it, I have initially asked ChatGPT to do Part of Speech tagging, and it assigns it as a verb. I do understand gerunds are forms of a verb (as you have said). So "Hiking" is a verb and "Hiking interest rates" would be a noun serving as the subject of a sentence? Dec 9, 2023 at 14:07
  • 2
    Not exactly. Hiking is a verb. "Hiking interest rates" is a participle/gerund clause, serving as the subject of the sentence.
    – James K
    Dec 9, 2023 at 16:00
  • 2
    @CeliusStingher You can tell that hiking is a verb here, not a noun, because it takes the direct object interest rates. It is a mistake to think of ‑ɪɴɢ clauses used as subjects as “nouns” because this leads to incorrect choices in potential modifiers. Since it is a verb, it cannot be modified by adjectives or intensfiers, only by adverbs. For example, quickly and carefully are allowed, but not easy, gentle, or very. Most nonprofessional materials about this matter so poorly describe the underlying grammar with oversimplifications that their shortcuts lead to contradictions.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2023 at 19:22
  • @tchrist That’s why “short selling” is ungrammatical. Dec 10, 2023 at 13:10
  • @tchrist One can also read this as: the hiking of interest rates, shortened. I just don't think it is so cut and dried.
    – Lambie
    Dec 10, 2023 at 17:36
6

My question is, whether "Hiking" and "Cutting" are verbs, or a gerunds?

All gerunds are a subcategory of verb functions/forms, so the choice cannot be between gerund and verb, but between gerund and some other type of verb function/form, such as a participle.

...it really confuses me the fact that in my sentence the subject ("Interest rates") is followed by the preposition "to" which is used with verbs...

In English the preposition "to" in this usage can be freely used after both nouns and verbs, so you cannot use its presence to diagnose whether a verb form is a gerund or not. All of the following sentence are equivalent, although not equally idiomatic. Only the last example uses "hiking" as a gerund:

  1. The government is hiking rates to control inflation.
  2. The government is making rate hikes to control inflation.
  3. Rate hikes to control inflation are being made by the government.
  4. Hiking rates to control inflation is what the government is doing.

You could, of course, use "hiking" as a participle, and not as gerund. For example:

  1. This is a government hiking interest rates to control inflation.

You could even start the sentence with a participle phrase acting as an adverb, saying:

  1. Hiking interest rates to control inflation, the government will only push employment higher.

Although this last sentence is perfectly grammatical, it is not the best way to express things, since the semantic relationship between the participle phrase and the rest of the sentence is unclear and puts a large burden on the reader/listener to infer the relationship. If the semantics of such a phrase is not immediately resolved, it is more common to say something like:

  1. While/Though hiking interest rates to control inflation, the government will only push employment higher.

  2. Despite hiking interest rates to control inflation, the government will only push employment higher.

Notice that "hiking" is a participle used used to create an adverb clause in 7, but is a gerund used to create a noun phrase in 8, despite the same form. To prove this difference, note that you could rephrase 8 to say: "Despite the interest rate hikes to control inflation,..."; however, you could not rephrase 7 in this way.

The fact that the same form of verb can be used used with similar semantics, while creating different parts of speech, is one reason that gerunds can be confusing.

8
  • Thanks for your answer, in terms of classifying it, I have initially asked ChatGPT to do Part of Speech tagging, and it assigns it as a verb. Understanding you said it puts a burden on the reader to infer the relationship, can we agree it is being used as noun? Apologies, gerunds are indeed confusing to me! Dec 9, 2023 at 14:09
  • 1
    Consider posting this as a separate question to get a complete answer. A gerund is always used as a noun within the larger sentence, but it can also function at the same time as a verb within its narrow phrase and govern objects and adverbs. If you have to label it either as a noun or a verb, your choice would depend on your particular purpose, since both are true, but not always equally relevant. Dec 9, 2023 at 14:58
  • 1
    What you have written is not true. Gerunds are only verbs, never nouns. Once they stop being verbs and become nouns, then they are no longer gerunds. This continued widespread misunderstanding about what parts of speech like noun and verb are versus what grammatical functions like subject and modifier are is the ultimate source of all these mistakes and confusions.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2023 at 22:23
  • @Vegawatcher You say "Notice that "hiking" is a participle used as an adverb in 7, but is a gerund used as a noun in 8, despite the same form." You are mistaken, as tchrist points out. In both cases, "hiking" is a verb functioning as predicator (head) of the non-finite clause "Hiking interest rates to control inflation". Please don't post such blatantly wrong answers
    – BillJ
    Dec 10, 2023 at 9:09
  • @CeliusStingher Relying on CrapGPT can only serve to confuse you further. Dec 10, 2023 at 16:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .