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What Is a Gerund?

Find out why “Thanksgiving” is a gerund.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #251
Thanksgiving is a gerund

...Sometimes Create Compound Verbs!

Now here’s what I think is the most interesting thing gerunds can do. These gerund-based compound nouns can create new verbs! Take a compound gerund like “cherry-picking.” It’s composed of two parts: “cherry” and “picking.” But you can also break it into two parts like this: “cherrypick,” plus the suffix “-ing.” And since “-ing” is a suffix for verbs, “cherry-pick” must be a verb, right? Presto! A new verb is born, and we can talk about bad scientists who cherry-pick their data, and insurance companies that cherry-pick the healthiest customers.

Linguists call this kind of process reanalysis. It also happens with agentive verbal nouns such as “bartender” and “babysitter,” and has given us numerous verbs such as “bartend,” “babysit,” “windsurf,” and “Christmas-shop.” The new verbs aren’t always pretty; one of my least favorites is “problem-solve.”

Not every compound noun with a gerund gets reanalyzed, though. I would have gotten some pretty strange looks if my family had gathered around the dinner table yesterday and I had said, “Let us thanks-give” instead of “Let us give thanks.”

And I did give thanks for all of you who listen to the show every week.

Literal Minded

This article was written by Neal Whitman, who has a PhD in linguistics and blogs at Literal Minded.

References
  1. Huddleston, Rodney, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, pp. 80-83.

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