Monday, July 6, 2015

Gerunds and Participles Go to the Movies

There was a craze a few years back when it seemed every movie title’s first word began with -ing.  

Saving Private Ryan, Raging Bull, Leaving Las Vegas, Raising Arizona, Being John Makovich, Blazing Saddles and so forth. The grammatical function of these words is sometimes gerundial, while sometimes they serve as present participles.

It can be confusing, as all gerunds and present participles are born of verbs and all of them end in –ing. Wait, what? An English grammar rule that has no exceptions? In the case of gerunds and present participles, it even holds true with the most incorrigible of all verbs, to be and to go, whose gerund and present participle forms are being and going.

If they are always the same, then why have different names for them? The real reason is because of a leftover distinction from the Latin, whose case system of grammar did require two different words depending on their function, and there is a school of thought that this distinction should be sacked in favor of the term gerund-participle. For me though, the mere fact of gerunds functioning nominally (as nouns do) and present participles functioning adjectivally (as adjectives do) is distinction enough for me to appreciate having some distinguishing terminology for them.

So which of these movie titles are gerunds (functioning as a noun), and which are present participles (functioning as an adjective)? Ask yourself, “Is this an activity or a description?” Hint: there are five of each. Click your answer to see if you are right.

Saving Private Ryan                                        Gerund Participle
Raging Bull                                                     Gerund Participle
Leaving Las Vegas                                          Gerund Participle
Burning Mississippi                                        Gerund Participle
Blazing Saddles                                              Gerund Participle
Being John Makovich                                     Gerund Participle
Vanishing Point                                               Gerund Participle
Boxing Helena                                                Gerund Participle
Breaking Dawn                                               Gerund Participle
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon                   Gerund Participle

See you at the movies!