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A "sleeping baby" generally means a baby that is sleeping at the time of speaking, as shown in this sentence:

After finishing all the feeding, bathing and nappy-changing duties, a number of dads have been competing in a new game to see how many Cheerios they can stack on their sleeping baby. (Quoted from this article)

In this and most other contexts, the "sleeping" in "sleeping baby" has a progressive meaning to it. In fact, I can't really think of a context where a "sleeping baby" does not mean a "baby that is sleeping at the time of speaking" but a "baby that just sleeps".

On the other hand, it's hard to think of other noun phrases consisting of "V+ing + noun" where the "V+ing" has a progressive meaning to it. In none of the following examples does "V+ing" show a progressive meaning:

The guy was a walking encyclopedia of beer knowledge.

That's an interesting idea.

We are paying customers.

When I was diagnosed, it was a really trying time.

I own the controlling interest in the company.

Today's recycling day.

Is there something special about the phrase "sleeping baby" that makes the progressive meaning possible? Is so, what is it?

If this isn't anything special about this particular phrase, then please show me some examples of "V+ing + noun" where the "V+ing" shows a progressive meaning.

  • 1
    How about "a running man". – Colin Fine Jul 3 '16 at 16:32
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    She was as quiet as a sleeping baby. – user3169 Jul 3 '16 at 17:34
  • I am able to comment on your question because I have a working Internet connection. Another example: shooting star. – Scott Jul 3 '16 at 23:50
  • I can see how "a running man" is construed as "a man who is running now". But I'm not sure about "a working Internet connection" or "a shooting star". Are they really construed as "an Internet connection that is working now" and "a start that is shooting now", respectively? – JK2 Jul 4 '16 at 1:26
  • A very good question. The use of V+ing in this case doesn't always mean that it's currently going on. The context will play a role in determining the meaning. – Man_From_India Jul 4 '16 at 7:53
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It's not a special use. The ing form can refer to the action going on right now, or to one that is habitual. This carries over to its use as a modifier:

Going on at the moment of speaking:

They were careful not to wake the sleeping baby.

John sat in the minivan carrying seven passengers. (e-gmat blog)

Others I can think of:

I don't know if I can eat that tantalizing dessert.

Please shut that buzzing contraption off.

That hissing radio is really annoying.

Habitual (therefore, giving a characteristic):

all the examples you gave in your post, plus the one by user3169:

She was as quiet as a sleeping baby.

Also:

Never wake a sleeping baby.

Sometimes both senses are meant at the same time:

Look at the waltzing bear.

The bear is a waltzing bear and he is waltzing now.

John sat in the minivan carrying seven passengers.

The van carries seven passengers and it is carrying seven now.

  • I was only talking about the case where "V+ing" premodifies "noun", so I wonder if "John sat in the seven passenger-carrying minivan" works. – JK2 Jul 4 '16 at 1:31
  • In "I don't know if I can eat that tantalizing dessert," does the "tantalizing" refer to "the action going on right now"? I thought it was an adjective just like the "interesting" in "That's an interesting idea." – JK2 Jul 4 '16 at 1:35
  • Well @JK2 the dessert is actively tantalizing me. The idea is not "interesting" me. – Alan Carmack Jul 4 '16 at 6:06
  • I don't know what you want to say by that statement, but it seems to me that the "tantalizing" doesn't have any progressive meaning to it any more than the "interesting" does. – JK2 Jul 4 '16 at 6:48
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The sleeping baby was cute. Sleeping is a gerund used as an adjective.

This has nothing to do with the progressive tense of the verb to sleep.

As in: I'm sleeping at their house vs I sleep at their house. All verbs in English (with a few exceptions) can be used as adjectives in the gerund form.

Careful with: We are paying customers. Paying is not a verb there. It is an adjective. Just like: We are great customers. Tricky, isn't it??

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“A sleeping baby” is some kind of participle.

Compare these:

a drinking man"
a man who is always drinking and somewhat alcoholic (present participle)

"a man drinking beer"
a man who is drinking beer right now (present participle)

"drinking water"
water for drinking (gerund)

VS

"a sleeping baby"
a baby that’s sleeping right now (present participle)

"a baby sleeping on the couch"
a baby that’s sleeping on the couch right now (present participle)

"a sleeping bag"
a human-sized bag for sleeping (gerund)

  • 1
    I've done some editing. I've made the answer stand alone, rather than refer to another answer (you address the question, not other answers) and I've removed the code formatting. (back ticks are used on the coding websites to indicate computer language) Thanks for mentioning "participle" which is a key word that the other answers have omitted. – James K Dec 18 '18 at 7:31

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