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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Jan 17th, 2008, 01:22 am
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Default The singing boy is my brother?

A teacher asked me about sentences of the form verb +ing +noun. I told her that although you could say "the singing boy is my brother," my native speaker intuition prefers "the boy (who is) singing is my brother." My feeling is that in most cases it sounds better when the noun comes first. However, the above case was somewhat ambiguous to me, and there are some clear cases where the noun comes last, such as a moving train, a sinking ship, a dying man. What do you think?

For example, which would you choose?

The swimming boy is Tom vs.
The boy swimming is Tom. vs.
The boy who is swimming is Tom.

The standing man is Tom. vs.
The man standing is Tom.
The man who is standing is Tom.

I passed a swimming boy vs.
I passed a boy swimming. vs.
I passed a boy who was swimming.

I love to see singing children vs.
I love to see children singing. vs.
I love to see children who are singing.

Thanks for your help!
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  #2 (permalink)  
Unread Jan 17th, 2008, 07:14 am
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Default Re: The singing boy is my brother?

"The crying baby is getting on my nerves."

in this case 'crying' is functioning as an adjective. It isn't necessarily describing what the baby is doing now. In this case it creates inclusion. We're associating this baby with other 'crying babies' to create a feeling about the baby. It just so happens that this baby is crying now. (compare to 'Crying babies get on my nerves.')

"The baby crying (over there) is so cute when she giggles."

This places more emphasis on the action, or on what the baby is doing in order to define it or separate it from a group of babies or confusion with other babies.

Either way it sounds a bit funny. We use relative clauses to define something. 'swimming' 'crying' ... aren't very descriptive alone. In general, we tend to string more words together than that.

the boy scratching vs. the boy scratching his head
the girl swimming vs. the girl swimming with her friends

I hope that helps.
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  #3 (permalink)  
Unread Jan 17th, 2008, 08:16 am
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Default Re: The singing boy is my brother?

Switching the order of the 'ing' word and the noun is usually okay but at such basic grammar levels, I would argue don't start the students down a path that doesn't have more regularity.

Recently, my English teacher and I used this great worksheet of a class of bad students who are all goofing off. The students have to write sentence about the bad students. My teacher told they could rotate the '~ing' to either side of the noun. Bells and whistles went off in my head but I kept silent until she got to the picture of the boy who was smoking and said 'The boy smoking...' can also be written as 'The smoking boy', which to me means smoke was coming from the actual boy.

Personally, I don't encourage this 'grammatical rotation'.
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  #4 (permalink)  
Unread Jan 17th, 2008, 08:46 am
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Default Re: The singing boy is my brother?

Thanks for your input. For clarification, this isn't something I'm trying to teach my students. I was asking because a teacher who is not a native speaker asked me, both for her own English development and because she teaches this kind of sentence.

I think Mesmark is onto something with the adjective/action distinction. After thinking some more, I came up with this "rule": the more the gerund seems to describe a quality or category rather than a temporary action, the more acceptable it is to put the gerund first. Dying man, moving train, and feuding family all describe a category or stable quality (a man isn't suddenly going to stop dying, and we can separate healthy men, sick men, and dying men), so they sound good. But "playing song" sounds bad because playing is a very temporary state, not a characteristic of the song at all.

In any case, I think Mesmark also makes a good point when he says that native speakers would in reality string more words together. "The standing man" and "the man standing" both sound a little funny by themselves, but "the man standing over there" is perfectly natural.

Anyway, thanks for the replies and let me know if you have any other ideas.
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Unread Jan 22nd, 2008, 08:28 am
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Default Re: The singing boy is my brother?

Quote:
Quote Lucienne View Post
After thinking some more, I came up with this "rule": the more the gerund seems to describe a quality or category rather than a temporary action, the more acceptable it is to put the gerund first. Dying man, moving train, and feuding family all describe a category or stable quality (a man isn't suddenly going to stop dying, and we can separate healthy men, sick men, and dying men), so they sound good. But "playing song" sounds bad because playing is a very temporary state, not a characteristic of the song at all.
I like the summary. It's a bit clearer

I was just thinking and typing, so don't take any of that to be a rule. I usually just try to find reason to the pattern and that's what I came up with.

Are you teaching in Japan? I only ask because it's just about time for that grammar point here.
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Unread Jan 24th, 2008, 01:09 am
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Default Re: The singing boy is my brother?

Yes, I'm in Japan. They don't really involve me in grammar teaching, though -- grammar is taught by the Japanese teacher and "conversation" by the ALT. It feels a little strange to me to separate the two. I wonder if that's the norm?
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