A possible first step in developing a nonsexist vocabulary with which to analyze the works of the nineteenth-century writer Elizabeth Gaskell would be to stop referring to her as “Mrs. Gaskell.”

How does one pin point that the "in developing" used here is not a gerund. Any guidelines to locating an adjective phrase?

  • 2
    If developing were an adjective, it would've modified some noun phrase. Example: "The developing world" (the adjective modifies the noun world). What noun phrase could developing modify in your sentence? – CowperKettle Sep 15 '15 at 7:29
  • 2
    Moreover, developing is the object of a preposition, in. It is the PP which modifies step, not developing. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 15 '15 at 11:49
  • 1
    @StoneyB : I think I am missing something in your explanation. Which PP modifies step? And what is PP here? Present Participle? Prepositional Phrase? – Victor Bazarov Sep 15 '15 at 12:06
  • @VictorBazarov Sorry - PP is preposition phrase: in developing &c modifies step – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 15 '15 at 13:24
  • I, perhaps erroneously, still conclude that 'developing' is a gerund... And I don't see any reasonable clarification in blade's answer. – Victor Bazarov Sep 15 '15 at 13:31

"in developing a nonsexist vocabulary" is shortened from "in the developing of a nonsexist vocabulary" where you can clearly see that "developing" has noun character.

By dropping "the" and "of" you get the curious phenomenon that a verb form with noun character can have an object like a verb. i.e. "developing" has noun character and verb character at the same time. For this curious phenomenon we have the special term gerund.


Nouns can be the subject or object of a sentence/clause/phrase, including Prepositional Phrases which is what @StoneyB meant above.

Adjectives modify nouns, but cannot be any of the above.

Note that adjectives can be a subject complement if they follow the verbs be, appear, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, smell, sound, taste, or turn - which looks a lot like an "object" but they are not objects in these cases.

Note also that in English an entire phrase can be an adjective or noun - the phrase itself may have objects, though, but only "within" the phrase.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.