The students behaving well pleased the teacher.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by pretty girl12, Dec 12, 2012.

  1. pretty girl12 Senior Member


    The students behaving well pleased the teacher.

    Please, does the above phrase function as a participial phrase or gerund phrase?

    I think it is a participial phrase because gerund phrases function as a noun and it is not ' the students' behaving well...'

  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'm sorry, pretty girl, I find the sentence strange.

    I can only interpret it as "The students' behaving well ..."

    But even then, it's not something I would ever say:(.
  3. pretty girl12 Senior Member

    Thanks a lot, Loob.
  4. Garbuz Senior Member

    The dog lying on the porch was my neighbour's. (Participle I or Present Participle)

    The students' misbehaving upset the teacher. (Gerund)
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  5. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    The problem with sentences like this is that they are invented by grammarians to make a non-existent point about the gerund(ive). No native English speaker would normally express his thought in that way; he would say:

    The students' good behaviour pleased the teacher.
    The teacher was pleased that the students behaved well.
    The teacher was pleased by the students behaving well.
  6. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    And in addition the strange sentence is ambiguous: did the students behave well or was the teacher well pleased?
  7. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    There is no grammatical difference between the students behaving well and the students' behaving well except that the subject is in the plain case in the first, and the genitive case in the second. The plain case is much more common, but both are used - and in this example it is an arbitrary choice confined to writing only. If we switch to the singular so we can hear a difference, and put the clause in a function where it is a bit more natural, we get for example:

    The teacher was surprised by the student behaving well.
    The teacher was surprised by the student's behaving well.

    Again, there is no grammatical difference between these except for which case the subject of behaving is in, and again the plain case is considerably more common in present-day English. (With pronouns, the genitive is still perhaps more common than the accusative.) None of the sentences illustrate a difference between imaginary animals called the gerund and the present participle. English doesn't have gerunds and it doesn't have present participles; there is only one verb-form ending in -ing, and it has a great variety of functions, and its subject can have either plain/accusative case or genitive case. You'll only confuse yourself if you try to decide on imaginary distinctions that don't have any real relevance to understanding English grammar.

    Now, I must backtrack on what I just said, because one of those two sentences conceals two different structures. The first has two different readings. Although the structure of both reading is

    The teacher was surprised by [the student behaving well].

    in the first reading (meaning the same as the second sentence, with genitive) the square-bracketed part is a clause, headed by its verb 'behaving'. The teacher is surprises by the behaving. In the alternative reading, it's a noun phrase headed by 'student', the teacher is surprised by the student, and the verb phrase 'behaving well' modifies 'student' - it is equivalent in meaning to a relative clause. This distinction in practice corresponds to the traditional (but still imaginary) gerund/participle distinction. The true distinction is between a gerund-participle heading a clause ('the student behaving well'), which itself is in a primary position (subject or object of another verb, or object of a preposition), and a gerund-participle heading a verb phrase ('behaving well'), which is a modifier of a noun in a noun phrase.

    In practice, I think it is unlikely we would say this with the modifier meaning, since a relative clause 'who was behaving well' is an unambiguous way of saying that, and the original sentence as it stands is far more likely to have the clausal meaning, equivalent to the one with genitive subject.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  8. Garbuz Senior Member

    I wonder how I would explain to students why we say " I saw him crossing the street" and not "... his crossing the street" without referring to the distinction between participle and gerund. Also perfect forms to express priority, which are a must with participles and optional with gerunds: Having done the work, he felt better. vs. I can't remember doing / having done the work before.
  9. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    It's easy. I saw him (when he was) crossing the street.

    In my eyes it's no different from I saw him wearing a hat, or I saw him writing a letter.

    Look, I'm going to be revolutionary here, but I reckon nobody outside forums like this gives a fig for gerund/ive. It's a dead issue. Nobody in real life puts the 's on or talks about his doing such-and-such. If we talk about "her singing" we use singing as a noun. Compare:

    I saw him writing a letter. Him is object, writing a letter is adjectival phrase.
    I enjoy his writing. His writing is a noun phrase = literary works.

    Gerund and gerundive are words that refer to Latin grammar, not English.
  10. Garbuz Senior Member

    If I were your student I would ask: "Mr Bradford, why can't we use 'his' in 'I saw his crossing the street at the wrong place' like we do it in 'I remember his crossing the street at the wrong place? How do you know that 'crossing the street' is an 'adjectival phrase' in the former sentence and a 'noun phrase' in the latter? :)
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  11. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    I doubt many English natives would actually say: "I saw/remember his crossing the street at the wrong place". I for one would say "him" in both instances. The word crossing as a noun (gerund/ive? I don't even know what grammarians call it) means either the place where someone crosses (e.g. a pedestrian crossing) or a journey in a boat (e.g. a ferry crossing). In either case, it can't be his.

    Why make the invented life of a language teacher more complicated than the real life of language users?
  12. Garbuz Senior Member

    a) Since English has lost practically all its inflexions, the part of speech a word belongs to is determined by the syntactic function of the word in a sentence.

    b) Not being a native speaker, I'll have to apply to authentic texts. In M.Hewings' 'Advanced Grammar in Use', the phrases 'remember smb doing smth' and 'remember smb's doing smth' are treated as variations. So I assume both of them are grammatical (with 's stylistically more formal). But I could choose another verb:
    He denied their taking the money. (1)
    He saw them taking the money. (2)

    You wouldn't say 'denied their taking' is wrong, would you? So why 'their' in (1)? and 'them' in (2)?

    c) Sometimes language users ask rather complicated questions. Unlike you, a native speaker, I can't simply say 'because we say so'. They may not believe me. :)
  13. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    In 1), it is the taking that is being denied. "Taking" is the object of "deny." He denied the taking of money.
    In 2), it is "they" who are seen. "Them" is the object of "saw." He saw them when they were taking the money.
    You cannot change 1) to say that he denies "them", but you could change 2) to say that he saw the "taking" instead of "them".
  14. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    I didn't say that either is wrong or ungrammatical, just that nowadays very few speakers use the genitive (their) version.

    In any case, in reality I would say: "He denied they had taken the money".
  15. Garbuz Senior Member

    Let me check if this rule works.
    He disliked their torturing the cat.
    He saw them torturing the cat.

    I can say both 'he disliked them' and 'he saw them'. So I'm sorry to say but your rule doesn't work.
    By the way, this distinction between 'denied the taking' and 'saw them' doesn't sound convincing. In both sentences we deal with a situation that comprises the doer and the action - 'their taking the money'. Syntactically it's an object in both sentences.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  16. Garbuz Senior Member

    Well, there's always a way. :)
  17. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Garbuz, I don't want this discussion to carry on for ever. My point is that, for most people in everyday usage, there is no rule.

    Most English speakers either use the accusative + -ing in all cases, or else they rephrase the sentence. For them, the genitive version (the gerund) doesn't exist.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  18. Garbuz Senior Member

    The name is Garbuz. Yes, I've got your point. Never mind the rules. I wouldn't know Russian language rules either though I speak Russian fluently. Peace.


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