difference between: cycle and cycling

Hello guys,

I have been confused with the usage of 'cycle' and 'cycling' for quite a long time. What is the difference between them?
Follow are 4 sentences extracted from an academic paper published in Nature. These sentences must have been edited by the native English editors of Nature, so there should be no grammar errors.
1, "Synthesizing earlier studies, we find that the mobilization and deposition of agricultural soils can significantly alter nutrient and carbon cycling"
2, "The cycling of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus are strongly interrelated."
3, "Beginning with the pioneering work of Stallard, scientists have become increasingly aware that lateral fluxes induced by soil erosion are of key importance in the global
carbon cycle."
4, "Understanding erosional effects on the carbon cycle requires consideration of all three phases"

I am a grad student concerning on climate change, so I would use the word 'cycle' quite often. That is why I am so confused!
Kindly could you anybody help clarify the differences and tell me how use them correctly? thanks a lot!


Senior Member
English - England
Cycle is countable; cycling is uncountable. I think that the semantic nuance between them derives from this: a cycle is one of the many defiined cyclical processes that occur in the world; cycling refers rather to the fact that a cyclical process is occurring in this instance.

Having said that, I think you could probably replace cycle with cycling (and vice versa) in all your examples (mutatis mutandis) without anybody batting an eyelid.
English (Midlands UK)
Theoretically, cycle is an object, cycling is an action. However, since the whole point about these cycles is that they are processes, the distinction is often of little importance.

In your examples, the following changes are perfectly possible:
1, ...and carbon cycles.
2, The cycles... (this is actually better, with that plural verb!)
3, (No change possible: this refers to one specific cycle.)
4, ...on carbon cycling...


Senior Member
English - South-East England
Also, 'the carbon cycle' is a standard term in climate science, like 'citric acid cycle' in biochemistry. If you are just referring to the cycling of carbon in general, you would most likely call it the carbon cycle, as in your examples 3 and 4. The first two refer to the cycling of other things too.
Thanks! yes, ''the carbon cycle' is a standard term, but I could also come across the usage of 'the carbon cycling' in some cases. Are they interchangeable? (I am still confused, :mad:)
English (Midlands UK)
As I said, theoretically, cycle is an object, cycling is an action. You can draw a still diagram of the carbon cycle and name its parts; carbon cycling is the movement of carbon between those parts, and would better be shown in a movie film.

But honestly, you needn't worry much about this; just remember that grammatically cyle can be put in the plural, cycling has no plural.