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I wonder if there's any rule behind using articles, both definite and indefinite, before "-ing" nouns, i.e. drinking, killing, upbringing and so on.

I feel like most of them can go both ways; I wouldn't mind saying:

  1. My friend says that his parents didn't manage to give him a proper upbringing.

But, on the other hand, I don't feel like there's anything off with:

  1. Proper upbringing is key.

Another such case presents itself with the word "killing".

  1. Killing may seem difficult at first, but soldiers claim you can get used to it.

But, in a Dropkick Murphys' song, they go with:

  1. The killing and dying - it was all done in vain.

Any thoughts?

  • I asked a similar question here – Lucian Sava Jul 21 '15 at 7:59
  • The "Killing" in your example #3 seems to be a verb, not a noun. Consider: "Killing [people] may seem difficult at first, …" which has a direct object "people" for the verb "killing"; and "Killing [of people] may seem difficult at first, …" which uses a noun "killing", but that noun example seems to be ungrammatical. – F.E. Jul 21 '15 at 8:17
  • Gerunds and infinitives can take objects, yet still function as nouns. -ing words can be part of an verb phrase if preceded by a form of to be. – LawrenceC Jul 21 '15 at 10:37
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-ing words as nouns follow the same rules in regard to articles as any other nouns. Exception: If the -ing word has a subject (which becomes an object from the point of view of the rest of the sentence) though, don't use any article.

Here's some really contrived examples:

(Definite article, we mean a specific X we mentioned or saw before)

The candy tasted good.

The hiking made me feel better

Him hiking with her made me feel better.


(Indefinite article, we don't mean a specific X)

Are you going to find a paper clip?

Are you going to pay for a tanning later?

Are you going to pay for him tanning later?

Are you going to give him money for him donating to the church later?


(No article, noun used in a general sense.)

Flowers make me sneeze all the time.

Arguing makes my head hurt.

Arguing with her makes my head hurt.

Him arguing with her makes my head hurt.

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