Folia Linguistica Historica vol:28 issue:1-2 pages:77-113
This paper addresses the variation between two nominal gerund constructions in 16th-century English: definite gerunds on the one hand (the eating of the apple) and bare gerunds on the other (eating of the apple). Although the two constructions are highly characteristic of the period and have played a role in the further development of the gerund, the factors that govern their use are still poorly understood. It is proposed here that the essential difference between the two variants lies in the presence of the definite article, which expresses its usual function of marking referents as ‘uniquely identifiable’. The role of the definite article can be made visible through close analysis of corpus data (Helsinki Corpus). In particular, the function of the article underlies two tendencies emerging from the data – one relating to the status of the nominal gerund as a ‘reference point construction’, the other relating to the gerund’s control behaviour vis-à-vis its matrix clause. Thus, the analysis shows that the choice between the two variants is non-arbitrary. At the same time, it opens up a fresh perspective on the historical development of the gerund, as it provides a functional characterisation of the nominal constructions in relation to which verbal gerunds emerged.