I have a question about the interchangeability of the ing-gerund and the -of- noun phrase. Take the phrases "murdering a man" and "the murder of a man":

1a ..arrested [somebody] on suspicion of murdering a man....
1b ..arrested [somebody] on suspicion of the murder of a man....

Google searches returned hits for both the patterns in 1a and 1b. So, it seems that "murdering [somebody]" and "the murder of [somebody]" are quite interchangeable.

But for the phrase "using a stolen credit card" and "the use of a stolen credit card"

2a ..arrested [somebody] on suspicion of using a stolen credit ....
2b ..arrested [somebody] on suspicion of the use of a stolen credit ....

Google searches got some hits for pattern 2a, but close to zero hit for pattern 2b. So, "using a stolen credit card" and "the use of a stolen credit card" are not really interchangeable.

So, the ing-gerund and the -of- noun phrase are really not the same? What do native speakers think?

  • Your question title is much broader than the examples you mention. In most sentences where you'd be using gerunds (such as this one), you can't simply exchange one form for the other! – Mr Lister Mar 27 '16 at 20:26

It's a good question. I would generally say that they are semantically pretty equivalent. I would also agree that I might be more likely to say "the murder of a man" than "the use of a stolen credit card" in this context, but not for grammatical reasons.

The primary difference to me is rhetorical: "the murder" has some gravitas and the sentence is interesting even without the extra bit of information about it being the murder of a man, etc. However, "the use" is not interesting — it's the "stolen" part that's interesting. So, there is no benefit, from a stylistic point of view, to calling out "use." Contrast this with the following more likely news item:

"Police arrested a man for the theft of multiple vehicles in the area." (Sounds good to me.)

"Theft" is a more interesting noun than "use", so that might be why this works to my ears. It's difficult to construct the same news item with stolen credit cards, because the primary offense is not really stealing the credit cards ("the theft of credit cards" does not really sound like much of a crime), but rather buying items with that stolen credit card.

From that intuition, I would conclude that using "the murder" construct (versus the "murdering …" construct) puts extra attention on the act, whereas the gerund (-ing) construct is neutral in that regard.


Naturally, you get fewer hits for stealing a credit card: the police rarely arrest people for such a trivial offence, and if they do, it's even less likely reported in the media. Murder, on the other hand...

It's risky trying to do any statistical analysis on small numbers: for example, the results can easily be disturbed by just one quote about one incident, if the quote is reported multiple times in different publications.

To answer your question: for formal publications like statements issued by the police, I don't think that there is any significant difference in preference of gerund vs the-noun-of. For informal speech, probably the gerund has the edge.

  • Police certainly do arrest people for using stolen credit cards. In some jurisdictions even possessing a stolen card is a felony that can result in jail time. Sometimes it's just some loser using the card to buy cigarettes and beer, and they may get off with community service, but other times it's linked to organised crime. – nnnnnn May 23 '16 at 11:42

They are the same, only while communicating with a person. But when it comes to the machine, searching on the World-wide Web, it's purely based on the search algorithm used by Google.

Google uses many artificially intelligent algorithms to overcome this problem. But still, we have a long way to go, till the machines understand that the ing-gerund and the -of- noun phrase are really the same.

Ref: https://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/algorithms.html

  • The OP isn't expecting Google to understand that the phrases are equivalent, indeed they're kind of relying on the opposite: they're doing separate searches on each phrase to see how commonly each phrase is used. – nnnnnn May 23 '16 at 11:26

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