Asked • 06/24/19

When can the -ing form of a verb be placed before a noun?

My native-speaker's grammatical intuition tells me that: > There is a **sleeping man** under the tree. is fine but > There is a **fishing man** by the river bank. is wrong. Why? I've thought about this a little, and I've come up with some grammatical hypotheses, but I'd be very grateful if somebody could point me to a general reference on this matter. **Addendum:** Someone asked me what hypotheses I've come up with. I've identified two cases where an *-ing* modifier can come before a noun: 1. When the *-ing* acts to modify the noun (like an adjective), rather than describe an action being performed at that time, it goes before the verb. E.g. *flying fish*, *dancing girl*. 2. When the verb suggests a sensory impression. E.g. *crying baby*, *shining light*. But there must be at least one more class to account for expressions like *a sleeping man*. **Second addendum:** I should clarify precisely what **fishing man** is supposed to mean. It does not mean *a man who fishes*. That would be taken care of by case 1 of the hypothesis above. The intended meaning is *a man who is fishing*. (Just like *a sleeping man* is supposed to mean *a man who is sleeping* rather than *a man who sleeps*.)

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