Failing admitting speeding, the case will go to court

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Sutemi, Jan 26, 2013.

  1. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    "Failing admitting speeding, the case will go to court."

    The point here is that can you have triple gerunds? Or long string of gerunds? "Failing" in this case is a preposition, so it needs to be followed by a gerund. After "admit", you also need a gerund. So is the sentence correct?

    There is no source, I just made up the sentence.

    P.S. I'd appreciate it if someone could come up with a long string of continuous gerunds. Just for the heck of it.
     
  2. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Your example looks like a headline in a newspaper; headline have their own rules that are usually designed to pack the maximum information in the minimum space. It could also be a terse answer:

    Motorist: " Why are you doing that?! Shouldn't you simply fine me?"
    Policeman: "Failing admitting speeding, the case will go to court." i.e. "You have failed to admit to the offence of speeding, I therefore cannot give you a fine and your case must be heard in court."

    PS
    Here is a headline with Gerund and strings in it:
    http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/01/gerund_mickens_suspect_in_stri.html (I couldn't resist that one. :D What a strange name!)
     
  3. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    I'm not a rules guy, but your rule strikes me as wrong, e.g. He was arrested for failing to stop.

    Your sentence is wrong for me for a couple of reasons: 1) It should begin with "Failing to admit to speeding," and 2) that phrase needs to be followed by the person, not the case -- the case wasn't failing to admit speeding.

    Refusing to admit to speeding, the man was jailed and is awaiting trial.
     
  4. perpend

    perpend Senior Member

    American English
    The sentence in the OP is correct, Sutemi.

    "failing" is not a preposition in that case.
     
  5. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    What an excellent example: you have put three ing-forms together in a way that makes good sense.
    However, I disagree with PaulQ's explanation of it.
    'Failing x' in this kind of phrase is equivalent to a connditional clause. It means 'if x is not forthcoming'.

    Hence 'Failing admitting speeding, the case will go to court' means 'Unless you admit to speeding, the case will go to court'.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2013
  6. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Come on wandle! Absent context, you can't disagree! The best you can say is, "It is also possible that 'Failing x' in this kind of phrase is equivalent to a conditional clause."

    Anyway, I thought of a string. Context: a man out fishing receives a text message asking him how he is, he replies: "Missing fishing wishing raining stopping."
     
  7. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hullo, everyone.

    The sentence Failing admitting speeding, the case will go to court strikes me as ungrammatical because I can hardly imagine a case which admits speeding.
    I forget the labeling of this type of error, but isn't it similar to the one we find in "Walking to school it began to rain"?

    GS
     
  8. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    Yes Giorgio. That's a classic example of a shortened sentence that has a confusion in the subject. Maybe "Failing admitting speeding, his/her case will go to court" would create less confusion. However, I think that there isn't too much confusion in this case and the sentence is readable.

    Thank you, but I disagree.
    Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/failing

    Barring the possible subject confusion, I certainly see "failing" as a preposition in this case.

    1) I think that "failing" is a preposition here, so it needs to be followed by a gerund.
    2) Yes, this is correct. "His/her case" would be better, but I think the sentence still functions well the way it is.

    What do you think?
     
  9. perpend

    perpend Senior Member

    American English
    What if it were "Failing admitting perjury ...", Sutemi?
     
  10. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Pace PauQ, I stick with this view. 'Failing x in this kind of phrase does mean 'if x is not forthcoming'.
    That is because the present participle does not express completed action. Thus it cannot mean that the failure is final.
     
  11. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    That's fine. "Perjury" is a noun and "speeding" functions as a noun. Both are fine in this case because an object is needed.
    Please correct me if I'm wrong. I feel that I'm walking on thin ice here :)
     
  12. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    'Failing' is not a preposition, but a participle. 'Failing x' is a participial phrase.
    Every participial phrase is equivalent to a clause.
    The phrase 'failing admitting perjury' is equivalent to the clause 'if you fail to admit perjury'.
     
  13. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    Actually I don't think that there is any subject confusion in the sentence.

    As I quoted before:
    Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/failing

    No one thinks that the problem is trying to solve itself. I think the word "failing" has a special characteristic in this case, meaning something general like wandle said 'if x is not forthcoming'. It doesn't matter what who or what the subject is in the main sentence.
     
  14. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Sorry, I think the whole sentence was wrong from the start, not only for the reasons given above (hanging participle) but simply because it doesn't sound like English. What a native speaker would say is:

    Failing an admission of speeding...
    In the absence of an admission of speeding...
    Failing you admitting speeding...
     
  15. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    I'm sorry to sound like a broken record, but what about the example that Free Dictionary gives?
    Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/failing

    I don't think this is about hanging participle, because it doesn't apply in this structure because of the preposition. How come the example given in the Free Dictionary is right and mine is wrong? I don't get it, sorry. I object to the notion that there is a hanging participle, and I do think it sounds like English.
     
  16. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Failing + noun is OK; failing + present participle isn't OK.

    But honestly, I don't make the rules, I just tell you what I see. To my ear, "Failing admitting speeding..." isn't English.


    (PS. Add to my list of preferable alternatives: "If you don't admit...")
     
  17. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    I do not agree with The Free Dictionary.
    'Failing new evidence' is not a hanging participle, but an absolute participial construction, equivalent to the clause: 'If new evidence is not forthcoming'.
     
  18. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Personally, I would prefer 'Failing an admission of speeding ...' every time, but I think the example given is a valid illustration of a possibility worth considering.
     
  19. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hullo, everyone.

    This seems to me to be an area of the grammar in which ungrammaticality is fairly likely even for those who speak English as a mother tongue. For such people grammatical mistakes occur mostly not in simple sentences but in complex ones. Nobody would make a simple sentence like "*An explanation was smiling", but in the series of transformations leading to "*Smiling, an explanation was offered", the speaker lost control of the grammar and put the smile on the face of the explanation.

    Thank you, Keith, for helping me recall the name of the mistake: dangling modifier.

    Our friends who don't have English as a mother tongue will be able to find some more cases here:

    1. Having plenty of time, a movie was suggested
    2. Marooned on the island, no hope remained
    3. Being only four years old, my mother forgave me
    4. Being a grandfather himself, the baby looked pretty cute to Witherspoon

    Best.

    GS
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  20. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hello Sutemi,

    How can you at once 1. talk of 'failing admitting speeding' as a triple gerund, and then 2. say that failing is a preposition (ie. not a gerund)?

    When used as a preposition, failing is usually followed by a noun other than a gerund - Failing an admission of speeding, the case will go to court would be idiomatic in my view.
     
  21. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    That's because I use "gerund" and "ing-form" interchangeable. Which is wrong and I see that now.
    I understand that a preposition is usually followed by a noun, but still it doesn't the away the fact (I assume it's a fact) that you can say "failing admitting speeding".
     
  22. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I think you need to be careful what you assume to be 'facts'.:)
     
  23. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    Thank you for the words of wisdom my friend :)
     
  24. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Could you find an example in the British Corpus of a gerund after failing, the preposition? I couldn't.

    It's always difficult on the forum when people talk about facts when the 'facts' seem to be anything but.:)
     
  25. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    Source: http://www.englisch-hilfen.de/en/grammar/gerund_prepositions_verbs.htm

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_prepositions

    It clearly says that after a preposition, you put the verb in the gerund.
    It also clearly says that "failing" is a preposition in the English language.
    Is it clearer now? If not, then, honest to God, I don't know how to explain it any better than this.
     
  26. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'm puzzled that this thread has lasted this long.

    "Failing admitting speeding, the case will go to court." seems completely wrong to me.

    "Failing" isn't a preposition, to my mind, whatever wikipedia might say**; and even if it were, I'm not sure the sentence would work:(.

    That said, if Sutemi's question is really:
    my answer is "yes, I don't see why not".

    Though I can't think of an example at the moment....

    ------

    ** EDIT: I subsequently had a re-think about this: see post 37 below.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  27. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    The problem is that the language can't be constructed like building bricks.

    I'm quite prepared to accept that failing can mean very much the same as in the absence of or without; so I'm happy to accept that it can perform the function of a preposition.

    It's true that if you can use a verb form after a preposition, that verb form is usually a gerund - eg. Without explaining this thoroughly I'm not going to be able to make my point.

    But there are some prepositions and prepositional phrases after which a verb form cannot easily be used: failing and in the absence of are two examples, it seems to me.

    That's how I see it. This all means that the form of the sentence in the OP is, I agree with Loob, 'completely wrong'.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  28. SevenDays Senior Member

    Spanish
    If we start by calling "failing" a preposition, then what follows must be in "ing" form to function as complement of that preposition; it's what traditional grammar calls "gerund." At first glance, "admitting" meets that requirement; that is, "admitting" can function like a noun. However, here, "admitting" has its own complement, "speeding," which makes "admitting" a verb. And that's a problem; "admitting" behaves in two ways: as a noun (complement of the preposition "failing") and as a transitive verb (with "speeding" as its complement). Insisting that "admitting" is a gerund (noun) and not a verb still poses a problem, because then we would have a "noun" ("speeding") complementing another "noun" ("admitting"), which is not something that nouns normally do. Failing an admission of speeding has everything in its proper place: the noun "admission" as complement of the preposition "failing," and a prepositional phrase as modifier of that noun (prepositional phrases commonly function as modifiers of nouns). Can you have triple gerunds? Yes, but I would place them in commas so that they are isolated and not able to take complements (which would render them verb-like): He admits to lying, cheating, stealing. The other solution is simply to call these words "ing," and so you could have three consecutive "ing" words (I wasn't expecting going shopping) without worrying how each "ing" word functions in the sentence.
    Cheers
     
  29. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    1. Well, gerunds can have complements, right? "Eating apples is good for your health," for instance.

    And gerunds can have complements that are gerunds: "Curbing spending is a main stated aim of the Republican Party."

    Presumably, gerunds could have gerunds for complements that themselves have complements, and those complements could have gerunds: "Slowing increasing spending will be necessary if we want to sustain fiscal growth."

    In other words, I don't think there's a problem with stacking three gerunds, and it doesn't make any of them into finite verbs. It is very inelegant - English doesn't like phrases like this that are very rhyme-y and jangly, and the stacking of all the words in the same form makes their relationship hard to understand. I'm willing to say that they could always be re-written in more satisfying ways, which will make them relatively rare in the wild (see also: three-infinitive stacks, which are less jarring to the ear but also look ugly: "to start to try to learn to bake pavlova").

    2. Whether "failing" is a preposition or participle is unimportant. It's certainly acting as an absolute modifier, as wandle points out (post #17). On another note, prepositions don't "take gerunds," they take nouns (and gerunds are nouns).

    3. We haven't yet seen a three-gerund-stack in this thread (except perhaps my execrable "slowing increasing spending"). "Failing admitting speeding" only has two gerunds; Paul's "Missing fishing, wishing raining stopping" has two participles and three gerunds.
     
  30. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    Thank you all so much for the replies so far. It seems that the problem may not be that "failing admitting speeding" is wrong, but that it seems unnatural, not English and - as Lucas pointed out - inelegant.
    I'd also like to apologise for confusing all ing-forms as gerunds. Honestly, I thought that ing-form automatically makes any word a gerund. I will not make this mistake again.
     
  31. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hullo, lucas.

    gerunds can have complements :thumbsup:
    prepositions don't "take gerunds," they take nouns (and gerunds are nouns):thumbsup:

    Bestest.

    GS
     
  32. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It does seem to me that we have reached a sad stage in the decline of English grammar if people can seriously regard the word 'failing' as a preposition.

    That 'theory' seems to me the sort of desperate expedient someone might hit on in an exam when asked to explain a phrase such as 'failing new evidence' when they do not know that is a participial absolute construction, analogous to 'God willing' or 'other things being equal'.

    The only difference in this case is that the participle 'failing' has been placed first for the sake of emphasising (a) that it is the most important idea and (b) the conditional sense of the phrase ('should new evidence fail to appear' or 'if new evidence does not emerge').
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  33. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    I'm confused. Many sources say that "failing" is (also) a preposition:
    http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/learner-english/failing_2
    http://grammar.about.com/od/pq/g/prepositerm.htm (Deverbal Prepositions)
    http://www.enchantedlearning.com/wordlist/prepositions.shtml
    http://www.thefreeresource.com/prep...ions-and-a-list-of-prepositions-with-examples

    I don't know what to believe anymore.
     
  34. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Deverbal Prepositions? Now I have heard everything. Not even the term 'deverbal' makes sense.
    It does demonstrate the lengths human ingenuity can go in creating alternative explanations instead of the real one.

    It is depressing to see self-respecting participles solemnly listed in those links as prepositions.
    The root cause of the error seems to me be a simple failure to understand the phrase as a phrase equivalent to a clause, and as a result to treat 'failing' as if it could be understood as a single word.
    In the field of translation, this type of error is seen when people try to translate word for word.
     
  35. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    As you say, lots of dictionaries class it as a preposition, so I'd believe them. I don't know if we have people here who will say that without is not a preposition. We shall see perhaps.

    It occurs to me that the gerund after failing might almost work if it was made specific to a person: Failing his admitting to speeding is much more acceptable than the phrase in the OP. I'm not saying it's better than the simple and clear If he doesn't admit to speeding.

     
  36. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    There's nothing wrong with "deverbal" - it just means "coming from a verb." Lots of words in English have come from verbs but have meanings that cannot be exactly reduced to the underlying verb. For instance, look at "sheet metal siding": "siding" is a deverbal noun, coming from the verb "to side," but when we hear "sheet metal siding" we don't "unpack" the word "siding" into a phrase with a finite use of the verb "to side."

    Other examples of deverbal prepositions include "concerning," "following," etc. Perhaps you can notice how these words take up new, not-quite-verbal-anymore, uses when you look at a sentence like "Following the movie, we had coffee." It's very hard to "unpack" "following" into a relative clause with the verb "to follow." The point is that it takes on a new use that's not entirely reducible to its use as a verbal word like a participle or gerund. (For a deverbal noun, try "His work gained a large following.")
     
  37. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Having pondered some more and read later posts, I think I should modify my comment in post 26.

    I think I'd accept "failing" as a preposition in more-or-less set expressions like Failing all else. So instead of saying "Failing" isn't a preposition, to my mind, I should probably have said To my mind, "failing" is a preposition only in a restricted set of contexts.

    I'm sorry to have contributed to your confusion, Sutemi.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  38. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    'Verbal' means 'coming from a verb'. For example, a gerund is a verbal noun.
    'Deverbal' does not make any sense that I can see. 'De-' is used as a prefix with the sense of 'remove', as in 'decorticated', 'deracinated' etc.

    A 'deverbed' preposition would be one with the verb removed, but that still makes no sense, unless you started from a preposition which contained a verb.

    Words like 'siding' and 'following' in those examples are gerunds with a derivative meaning: the product or result of the action, rather than the action itself. This is normal. They are still verbal nouns.

    Words like 'following' and 'concerning' are different from 'failing' as in 'failing new evidence'.

    I can see an argument for calling 'following' and 'concerning' in such contexts prepositional participles (not sure if I agree), but not 'deverbal' anything, since the sense of the verb has to remain, or they will lose their semantic meaning.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  39. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    The digital OED has this:
    failing, prep.
    [The pr. pple. of fail v., used either with intrans. sense in concord with the following n. or pron. (failing this = ‘if this fail’), or in trans. sense with the n. etc. as object (failing this = ‘if one fail this’).]
    [my emphasis]
    In default of.

    The citations go back to 1810 and include Wordsworth and Carlyle.
     
  40. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    No problem Loob. I'm more intrigued than confused, I must admit.
    Too bad I'm not able to edit OP. I'd like to change all "gerund" into "-ing-form".
    But I still think that you can say "failing admitting speeding", even though it's not the first option a native speaker would choose. But we can have alternative, but still correct, ways to say things. At least it seems that the opinions are somewhat divided.
     
  41. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    In a sentence such as 'Following the movie, we had coffee', I would prefer to see the participial phrase as being in apposition to the sentence and equivalent to a 'what is more' clause.

    For comparison, 'What is more, the new tablet will brush your teeth and comb your hair.' Here 'what is more' means 'additionally to what has already been said'. It does not say that the tablet is more, but that these further functions of it represent an addition to those mentioned already.

    Similarly 'Following the movie, we had coffee' does not say that we or the coffee followed the movie. It is equivalent to 'What followed the movie, we had coffee' meaning that the action of having coffee followed the movie.
     
  42. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Sorry, you've got some terminology confused here. Gerunds and participles (and infinitives etc.) are verbals - they are still forms of the verb from which they are formed. Other words, like "dedicatee" and "walk" (as in "his walk") are deverbals - they come from the verb but have moved away from it semantically and in terms of use. The "de-" in "deverbal" shouldn't suggest that something has been "un-verbed"; instead, it suggests this motion away from the original locus of the verb's use and meaning (like the "de-" in "derived").

    Actually, "siding" and "following" (in the sense given above) are no longer verbals, but are deverbals. Their use and meaning have wandered a bit away from those of the gerund-participles "siding" and "following" (which obviously look the same). Remember, just because two words look the same and sound the same doesn't mean they are the same. So "Siding with his wife in the argument, the customer demanded to see a manager" contains a participle, but "Buy our new aluminum siding!" contains a deverbal noun.

    In a way, "failing" is a very good example of this. We can use "Failing an admission of guilt, the case will go to trial." But nobody today would use "If an admission of guilt fail..." I don't even think most English-speakers would understand the latter sentence. This is, to me, evidence that the word "failing" has moved away from the verb "to fail," which really doesn't mean "to be lacking/absent" any more.

    I'm sure that this explanation won't satisfy everyone. But honestly, when every dictionary lists "failing" as a preposition and when deverbals are a recognized phenomenon in linguistics, fighting against these classifications seems kind-of pointless.
     
  43. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    The sentence we began with was: "Failing admitting speeding, the case will go to court." The problem is that "failing admitting speeding" is very unclear. It leaves us with questions particular to this specific phrase (who's doing the "admitting"?), and with questions that will accrue in all cases where there is more than one -ing form (are these adjectives or nouns or verbs or what?). Articles and prepositions can help clear this up, as can changing to other forms of the verb: "Failing an admission of speeding," "Failing his admitting speeding," etc.

    Is "failing admitting speeding" possible? I'd say yes. It's even understandable. But it's very inelegant. I don't think it would be the 18th option a native speaker would choose. It's awkward enough to be completely inadvisable.

    And as to the new question: Can you stack -ing words?

    Yes. Obviously. I will repeat my earlier caveats: A) it will sound jangly and B) the relationship between the words will be hard to discern. But there are examples where stacked -ing words can be used to great effect: I'm thinking, for instance, of the title of Eve Sedgwick's Touching Feeling. Note that in this title it's precisely because the relationship of the words is hard to discern (is "touching" a participle, a deverbal adjective meaning "moving," or a gerund?) that the overall combination is effective.
     
  44. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Turning to my faithful Chambers, I find:
    I still disagree.

    I am not inclined to use 'verbal', 'adverbial' etc. as nouns.
    Let us say 'adverb' when we mean 'adverb', 'adverbial phrase' when we mean 'adverbial phrase' etc.
    Using 'deverbal' to mean 'derived from a verb' when 'verbal' means 'derived from a verb' seems (a) unnecessary and (b) a recipe for confusion.

    'Siding' as in 'railway siding' is, as mentioned above, still a verbal noun. It is the gerund of the verb 'to side'.
    It is an example of the derivative use which refers to something which results from the action of the verb rather than the action itself. This is very common. Many gerunds have these two senses: the action of the verb (an abstract notion) and something produced by it (often a concrete thing).
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  45. Sutemi Senior Member

    Finnish
    Thank you for the comprehensive and well-demonstrated reply Lucas. Now things are much clearer to me. I'm ok with the fact that the sentence is correct even though it's something we should avoid saying/writing at all cost. This makes perfect sense.
     
  46. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    That's exactly right, wandle. The meaning has de-rived - it moved a little bit beyond where it used to be. Similarly the word has become de-verbal - it moved a little ways away from the verb it used to be wholly a part of.

    While you're in your Chambers you might want to check what it says about "verbal" and "deverbal." They are commonly used as nouns in linguistics. Although it's easier to see that a noun like "runner" is a deverbal because it's changed its form more explicitly, sometimes deverbals can have the same form as verbals ("siding" looks like a gerund-participle, "walk" looks like a bare infinitive). It all has to do with the vicissitudes of use.
     
  47. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    If you were to say it, Sutemi, I think you'd immediately reveal yourself not to be a native speaker. That's the criterion I often apply when deciding whether or not something can be said.
     
  48. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I think you've raised a very interesting question, Sutemi:).

    For me, "failing + ING-form" is not possible: so I couldn't say "failing admitting guilt".

    Others have said that, for them, "failing an admission of guilt" is possible. It isn't for me - so I suspect my use of "failing" as a preposition is much more restricted than that of others...:(

    EDIT: cross-posted with TT, with whom I agree.
     
  49. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    'Deverbal' is not in my Chambers and is not going to enter my vocabulary either, except when necessary to argue against it.
    It reminds me of - whose signature is it?
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  50. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Wasn't there a thread recently on "pissing into the wind"? ;) You can find "deverbal" on Wikipedia here. Here's an OED example:
    You could consider "deverbal" to be jargon, but apparently linguists consider it to be helpful and useful.
     

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