Participial Nouns

Participial Nouns :

English has a large and important class of verbal nouns that end in -ing, and that serve as the names of actions.

These are identical in form with present participles, for which they are frequently mistaken. The distinction, however, is clear, for the present participle is never used as the name of an action. Hence no such word in ING that is a subject or an object or stands in any other noun construction, can be a participle.

1. While I was travelling in Mexico, I met with an accident. [Participle.]

2. Travelling broadens the mind. [Verbal noun, used as subject.]

3. He enjoys travelling. [Verbal noun, used as object of a verb.]

4. He spends his time in travelling. [Verbal noun, object of a preposition.]

5. Tom’s favorite exercise is swimming. [Verbal noun, predicate nominative.]

6. This sport, fishing, has been called the contemplative man’s recreation. [Verbal noun, in apposition with sport.]

That nouns in ING are real nouns may be proved by putting ordinary nouns in their place.

Travelling broadens the mind……..Travel broadens the mind.

Talking is useless…….Talk is useless.

He is afraid of falling………He is afraid of a fall.

From nearly every English verb there may be formed a verbal noun in ING.

Verbal nouns in ING have the form of present participles, but the construction of nouns. They are often called participial nouns.

Such nouns are freely used, either by themselves or in a series along with ordinary nouns.

1. Mining is a dangerous occupation.

2. Painting and sculpture are sister arts.

3. The Indians of Massachusetts spent their time in hunting, fishing, agriculture and warfare.

4. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are jocosely called the three R’s.

Verbal nouns in ING have certain properties of the verb.

Verbal nouns in -ing may take a direct or an indirect object if their meaning allows.

1. Digging gold seems to the uninitiated like finding buried treasure.

2. Lending him money is useless. It merely fosters his unthrifty habits. [Here the noun lending, which is the simple subject of the sentence, takes both a direct object (money) and an indirect object (him), precisely as the verb lend might do.]

A verbal noun in -ing may take an adverbial modifier.

1. Speaking extemporaneously is good practice. [Here the verbal noun speaking is the simple subject; but it is modified by the adverb extemporaneously, precisely as if it were a verb.]

But verbal nouns in ing, like other nouns, may be modified by adjectives.

Extemporaneous speaking is good practice.

To the verbal nouns being and having, past participles may be attached, so as to give the effect of voice and tense.

2. After being instructed in my duties, I was ordered to wait on the king.

3. There were grave doubts expressed as to his having seen the mastodon.

4. After having been treated in so harsh a fashion, I had no wish to repeat the interview.

Such expressions are verbal noun-phrases.

Verbal nouns in ING are similar in some of their constructions to infinitives used as nouns.

Infinitive as Noun………Verbal Noun in ING

To swim was difficult. ………Swimming was difficult.

My business is to make shoes. ………My business is making shoes.

To see is to believe. ………Seeing is believing.

Nouns in ING are sometimes called infinitives or gerunds.

A noun in ING may be used as an adjective, or as the adjective element in a compound noun.

1. The sleeping car was completely wrecked.

2. William has plenty of spending money.

Note : Other examples are…….

1. a working day

2. an ironing board

3. drinking water

4. smelling salts

5. marching orders

6. a walking tour

7. a swimming race

8. a vaulting pole

In such cases it makes little difference whether the two nouns are taken together as a compound, or whether the first is regarded as an adjective modifying the second. The difference between this use and that of the participle is perfectly clear. A sleeping dog is a dog that sleeps…. a sleeping car is a car for sleeping. Sometimes, indeed, either explanation is possible. Thus, a hoisting engine may be understood either as an engine that hoists or as an engine for hoisting. But it is better to class these exceptions with the nouns in ING.

When a verbal noun in ING is preceded by an article or any other adjective, it cannot take an object.

1. {Shooting song-birds | The shooting of song-birds} is forbidden.

2. {Launching a ship | The launching of a ship} requires care and skill.

3. {Drawing maps | The drawing of maps} is a useful exercise.

4. {Eating confectionery constantly | Constant eating of confectionery} is bad for the teeth. 5. My business is {driving wells. | the driving of wells.}

Observe that, in each instance, the object (song-birds, ship, maps, confectionery, wells) is replaced by a prepositional phrase when an article or other adjective precedes the verbal noun.

Note : In such expressions as (I went a-fishing.) a is a shortened form of the preposition on and fishing is a verbal noun used as its object. When a is omitted we have…..I went fishing, The house is building and the like, in which the word in ing seems to be a participle, but is really the object of the omitted a (= on).

The possessive case of a noun or pronoun may be used to limit a verbal noun in ING.

1. I was sure of its being he. [Not: it.]

2. I heard of Allen’s being elected. [Not: Allen.]

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