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To ask the question more exactly, is there a term for a form of the verb that is a) not marked for tense, and b) can syntactically pattern like a noun-phrase or like a noun-modifier depending on the syntactic context?

The term I'm looking for need not be uniformly applicable and unambiguous for all languages.

From what I've read, the definitions of terms such as "gerund," "gerundive," and "participle" each vary depending on the language that the users of these terms are describing. See, for example, this LSE post on the term "gerund": Can the term "gerund" be linguistically defined?

However, if there is a term for a type of verb that meets criteria a) and b) above, even if this term has only applies to descriptions of a small number of languages, I'd like to know what the term is, even if it turns out to be "participle," "gerundive," or "gerund."

  • If we knew what was meant like "pattern like a noun phrase", we might be able to answer. But NPs pattern in a lot of ways, and non-finite clauses can "pattern" like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. At least. It isn't the verbs that "pattern"; it's the clauses they head. – jlawler Mar 7 '13 at 2:18
  • By "pattern like a noun phrase," I mean that it has the same syntactic properties as a noun phrase. It can be a subject, it can take quantifiers and adjectives, and so on. – James Grossmann Mar 7 '13 at 2:32
  • If I had to describe that group under one label, I would use nominal verb, but be aware that nominal has different senses and may not be unambiguous without some explanation. Nominal in this sense refers to nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and participles/gerundives/gerunds alike; in short, anything that can function in ways similar to nouns or adjectives, which are intimately connected. The infinitive is a dubious case, because it resembles a noun more or less depending on the language. – Cerberus Mar 7 '13 at 3:26
  • Hey, Ceberus, I wish you would have posted your comment as an answer. I would upvote it and check it. Thanks for the input. – James Grossmann Mar 7 '13 at 3:56
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    The thing is that "nominal verbs" and other such are actually heads of clauses; any verb is. In something like I enjoy playing pinochle the gerund clause [my] playing pinochle is the direct object of enjoy. But the gerund playing is not the object, and is not a noun -- nouns don't have direct objects. So while verby things can appear as if they were nouns, it's actually the clauses they head that are the NPs. See, for instance, how English Equi and Raising work. – jlawler Mar 7 '13 at 16:30
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If I had to describe that group under one label, I would use nominal verb, but be aware that nominal has various senses and may not be unambiguous without some explanation. Nominal in this sense refers to nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and participles/gerundives/gerunds alike; in short, anything that can function in ways similar to nouns or adjectives. In inflexional languages, this includes declension (case endings) as opposed to conjugation (the personal endings that verbs have). Nouns and adjectives are intimately connected in various ways, at least in Indo-European languages.

Verb and noun-adjective at the same time

The interesting thing about these forms is that they are both verb and noun/adjective at once; that's why nominal verb is the only label that seems to cover what they are. Externally, they function as nouns or adjectives, in that they can be the subject or object of verbs and prepositions or modify nouns, etc. (I want [a pony | to run], she failed at [running | love], I see a [running | fast] donkey).

Internally, however, they function mostly as verbs, in that they can have the kinds of arguments that finite verbs have, like subjects, objects, adverbial phrases, etc. Note that not every nominal verb can have all of these things in any situation, but in general they can have most.

In short, whatever they depend on treats them as nouns or adjectives, while they themselves treat their own dependencies mostly as verbal arguments. That applies to participles/gerunds/infinitives in all languages I know, which are admittedly Indo-European; I'm not sure this category even makes sense in other linguistic families.

The infinitive as a noun

The infinitive is a dubious case, because it resembles a noun more or less depending on the language: in Greek, it can have prepositions and articles, whereas in Latin the gerund is used with prepositions and cases, not the infinitive. In English, the semi-preposition to still clearly points to the nominal origin of the infinitive in Proto-Germanic. In all of these languages, an infinitive can be the subject of a finite verb, and it can also be an object, in the sense that (ego) volo vivere / I will live / (egô) mellô zôein resemble the pattern finite verb + object.

A note on clauses

It appears that two current definitions exist. Some branches of linguistic studies and disciplines use the strict definition of clause, which is "a finite verb and all its dependencies, including its subject".

I am not entirely sure about the broader definition and how it differs from verbal phrase, but I think it is something like "any kind of verb and its dependencies". What constitutes a "verb" is defined by the kind of arguments it takes, I would say (in both definitions). I am not sure whether the broad definition includes the "subject" of a participle in the clause (probably yes).

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  • Is a verbal noun the same thing (or is it a false concept, per jlawler's comments)? – amI Oct 6 '18 at 2:16
  • @amI: Verbal noun can be used with the same meaning, yes; but it is also sometimes used with a different meaning, akin of deverbal noun: this is a noun that is derived from a verb, but it can no longer have typically verbal arguments (like an object) and is hence no longer really considered a verb any more, but only a noun. The Wikpaedia article seems to explain it quite well: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbal_noun – Cerberus Oct 6 '18 at 3:37
  • Are you saying that verbal noun can refer to a de-verbal noun? De-verbal nouns are never -ing forms. Wikipedia actually confused me as to whether verbal noun might only be a subset of nominal verb. – amI Oct 6 '18 at 4:12
  • @amI: That's how I understand it, yes. If a gerund has lost all verbality except in it sorigin, some people would call it a verbal noun or a deverbal noun. – Cerberus Oct 6 '18 at 14:28

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