This is a pretty straight forward question. But here are some examples:

  1. Baking is my hobby. (used as a subject thing, or as some would call it, a gerund or verbal noun)

  2. I will be a contestant in the baking competition. (as an adjective in a compound noun phrase)

  3. I enjoy baking. (as an object complement thing)

  4. I prefer cooking over baking. (as a prepositional object)

I've added an answer below and put a bounty on this question because I want to get some more feedback, particularly regarding my answer.

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    Conversion and zero-derivation are two terms for the same phenomenon. So the answer to your question is "Yes".
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 22:39
  • @jlawler - Ok, I appreciate you attention, "Yes" in quotes, which leads me to believe there may be some qualification. In this paper researchgate.net/publication/235944115_Zero-derivation_-Functional_Change-_Metonymy - the author never once mentions gerunds or participles as subject to conversion. My actual interest in in learning when a 'gerund' becomes a non-finite clause, where in such a clause it can't be considered a gerund, when it takes a verb complement. Also curious to know how you define 'gerund' since there doesn't seem to be a widely accepted definition of the term. Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 3:11
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    @jlawler, there is another answer which is consistent with the equivalence of conversion and zero-derivation. That is: "No". (There is no reason to think that -ing gerunds are derived from -ing participles.)
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 17:15
  • 2
    In some cases you can tell when an -ing word is a verb (the default situation, since it's a verb form), and when it's an adjective or a noun. If it takes an article, for instance, it's a noun; if it takes a direct object, it's a verb; if it directly precedes the noun it modifies without any other appendages, it can be treated as an adjective. But whether it actually IS an adjective, or a noun, or a verb, just can't be determined in many cases. Think of it as Schrödinger's Participle; its actual form is indeterminate until someone says it; then it's whatever they think it is.
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 21:21
  • 1
    Re: conversion you may want to take a look at linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/1671/445
    – Alex B.
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 22:27

3 Answers 3


None of your examples has a present participle. All the examples have gerunds or, in other words, Poss-ing nominalizations: a sentence with the verb "bake" has been converted into a noun phrase. This would be more obvious if you supplied your examples with a subject or object for "bake": "Joyce enjoys my baking cookies for her."

  • 1
    While "my baking cookies for her" is a NP, isn't "baking" in it still a verb as it has an object?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 8:36
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    @curiousdannii, yes, "baking" is still a verb. Gerunds are verbs. The entire sentence "I bake cookies for her" is converted to a NP, but within the nominalization, "baking" remains a verb with a direct object.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 16:39
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    @BillJ, That's not quite right. Since "baking" is a verb, it cannot be modified by an adjective -- only by an adverb: "my occasionally baking cookies for her". Your example "occasional baking (*cookies) is my hobby" does not have a gerund, but rather has a derived noun "baking" which, confusingly, uses the same -ing suffix (which is why it won't take a direct object). I'm not sure about the ambiguity of examples 1 and 3.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 16:54
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    @BillJ, well, maybe. But note the unacceptability of *"Occasional baking of cookies is my hobby", which needs a "the".
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 17:22
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    @UbuEnglish, what you've said in these two comments is partially correct. For one thing, it's true that gerunds are non-finite verbs, and it is true that other parts of the verb phrase besides just the verb may be involved. Aside from the ending -ing, I don't any connection with participles. Participles are modifiers. Nominalized sentences are arguments. That's an important difference.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 6:32

I'm not a linguist, so please forgive any apparent presumption on my part in venturing an answer here. I'm confident about what I'm saying but more interested in the discussion of this answer with experts, than I am in finding agreement.

Conversion seems to apply only to morphological changes to a word's base form through affixation, or zero-derivation where the base form is just used as a different PoS, for example run in *I run," (verb), and I had a good run, (noun). But the PoS designation can only be made once a word is functioning in a sentence. Otherwise, it is not possible to say that a word like run, alone in its base form, has any part of speech, unless it only functions as a single part of speech, like the noun car or the verb teach, which have very narrow functional scope - car is always a noun and teach is always a verb. There cannot be any conversion when a word such as run is used as a noun, it is simply a word that con function as either a noun or a verb.

The -ing participle is a morphological form of its base word which is always a verb. The -ing participle has not undergone conversion unless it is used as a different part of speech from its base, in other words, when it is used as an adjective or noun in a noun phrase. Otherwise, it can be used in the progressive aspect of finite verb phrases or in non-finite verb phrases, or used as a bare participle as a subject or object. In the latter case as a bare participle it derives it's thingness from being used as a subject or object but it is still simply a verb form.

I just don't see any reason to say there is conversion when bare -ing participles are used as subjects or objects. If one were to assert that conversion does indeed happen at the sentence phrase level, then we would have to say that clauses used as subjects or objects also undergo conversion and become nouns. I know that some folks do say this, e.g. the noun clause (aka content clause). In all of these cases (bare participles and relative clauses as subjects or objects) calling them anything but verb forms or clauses, is designating these forms as a PoS (noun) which they are not. They are verbs or clauses as subjects or objects. To do so confuses sentence level roles and their S|V|C relations with PoS designations. Subjects and objects are always things but they are not always nouns, and just because a verb from or clause can take these sentence level roles does not render them nouns.

I think the only true example of conversion is in sentence number 2.

I will be a contestant in the baking competition. (as an adjective in a compound noun phrase)

Because the participle form is used in the adjective position in a noun phrase it converts from participle to adjective and in doing so it loses its ability behave like a verb - it cannot be modified as a verb any more - no adverbial or object relations. I don't think present participle adjectives can even take a qualifying adverb as a modifier, as many base adjectives can.

Conversion (nominalization) would also happen for present participles used in the noun position in a noun phrase:

some difficult programming

a very old building,

the training

All of these verb forms are nominalized by the constraint of the noun phrase structure they are used in and they lose their ability to function as verbs. But -ing participles used subjects and objects without such noun phrase constraints can still take adverbial complements and direct objects in ways that participles used in noun phrases cannot.

Otherwise, participles used alone as a subject or object derive their thingness from the role they play as subject or object, not through conversion. They can only be identified as a verb phrase because they are verb forms and as word phrases have none of the structural elements of a noun phrase; no determiners, adjectives, and no nouns. The only thing they have in common with nouns is their thingness, which is inherited from their syntactical role as subject or object, but in terms of word class or PoS, they can only be identified as verbs.

Subjects and objects are always things but they are roles in sentences that can be played by different types of word phrases; noun phrases, verb phrases (participles and infinitives) and even clauses can function as subjects and objects.

  • 1
    You're paying too much attention to "conversion". That's not a terribly useful term, and it can be defined in ways that include or exclude whatever one chooses. If you or somebody else wants to call situation X "conversion" but not situation Y, that's fine. Nobody cares unless you use the term to justify something that's not defined by it.
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 20:29
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    On reading it again, I also think you're paying too much attention to PoS. In English, especially, where morphology is almost unimportant, part of speech is as much a matter of opinion as anything else. The important thing for a grammar learner is constituents. Learn to recognize the constituents of a sentence and the parts of speech become either obvious or irrelevant: In Going to the store is fun for him, going to the store is the subject and therefore a noun phrase (as well as a gerund clause); and you can call up in Call him up now anything you like and it'll still behave the same.
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 20:39
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    Thanks @jlawler - I need to dig into constituent grammar more, but my first take away is that it's a bit confusing with so many tests delivering diferent results - it's seems that everything is a constituent of something (or not) depending on how you test it, and also that as a syntactic analysis constituency seems very much tied to semantic dependencies. My objective is to simplify concepts for ESL learners as much as possible and somehow, when I dig into such complexity, I manage to come away with an understanding that allows me to do that. Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 10:14
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    If that's your goal, you need a fairly integrated approach. I recommend McCawley's; his grammar covers everything important, and it was written and revised by one person. Who knew everything, more or less. It's thick, but it repays careful investigation and it's very clear.
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 15:42
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    Also: Linguistics and language learning have very different goals but traditional language learning seems overly dependent on concepts developed to explain how the phenomena of language exists and works. That complexity of analysis makes a lot of sense in the linguistic domain but language learning is intuitive and I think reducing complexity and letting the brain do its thing (processing language subconsciously) serves the interests of ESL learners. Thanks for the recommendation - it's very interesting. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 8:12

Historically it's the other way around. English lost its original active participle and replaced it with the construction on doing (with the gerund), which eroded to a-doing and then doing.

  • This should be added as a comment. It is interesting how etymology plays into this question. There's an article related to this here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/-ing Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 6:59

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