The –ing conundrum

One type of compound that might prove difficult for learners is that made up of an –ing form followed by a noun. In order to sort it out, an important difference has to be made. An word ending in –ing can be either a gerund, which is very close to a noun, or a present participle, which acts as a verb or an adjective. The accentual patterns are the same as those explained before:

Noun + noun (compound) = stress on the first element.

Adjective + noun (phrase) = stress on the second element.

Let’s se it in two groups of examples:

  1. Ing-word functioning as noun

(273) sound_loud_speaker He’s got a drinking problem.

(274) sound_loud_speaker Linda is my swimming instructor.

(275) sound_loud_speaker Fetch my walking stick for me, please.

  1. Ing-word functioning as adjective

(276) sound_loud_speaker It was the hottest summer in living memory.

(277) sound_loud_speaker He pretends he once saw a flying saucer.

(278) sound_loud_speaker The underlying assumption / was that he’ll go bust.

The problem is that the distinction between these two categories –gerund and participle- is not clear-cut. It seems to be more like a continuum where the same word can function either as a noun or as an adjective. Let’s consider these cases:

(279) sound_loud_speaker He’s got a drinking problem.

(280) sound_loud_speaker I approached the drinking man.

(281) sound_loud_speaker He wants to join a flying club.

(282) sound_loud_speaker He pretends he once saw a flying saucer.

(283) sound_loud_speaker Fetch me my walking stick for me, please.

(284) sound_loud_speaker I’m afraid of the walking dead.

So it is for the speaker to decide which word has to be accented according to whether it is functioning as a noun or adjective. A very good strategy is just to reason it out. A drinking problem is not a problem that drinks but a situation in which someone consumes too much alcohol. In fact, the noun alcohol could be substituted for drinking and the accentual pattern wouldn’t change: I’ve got an alcohol problem. So, this is clearly a noun and needs to get the accent. Similarly, a walking stick does not walk, but the walking dead do walk indeed.


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