Failure to Launch

Adding “ing” makes a noun, or not

When the “launch” of the space shuttle Endeavor finally occurs, many “posts” will appear on blogs and news sites around the web until well past the “end” of the mission.

And the poor “ing” ending for three nouns will be very lonely again.

Nouns that end in “ing” are usually gerunds, which, simply put, are verbs acting as nouns for the act called for by the verb. Thus the verb “to launch” turns itself into a noun by becoming “a launching.” The verb “to post” becomes “a posting,” “to end” becomes “an end,” and so on.

But we frequently use “launch,” “post,” and “end” as nouns as well, and, in some cases, the “ing” forms rarely appear.

“Launch” as a noun meaning the act of launching is considered obsolete, except where it’s part of a dialect, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. And it’s certainly part of the dialect in the United States, if not the world: You’d be hard-pressed to find “launching” as a noun outside The New York Times, whose style guide specifically calls for “launching” (as well as advising against its use outside of air and sea missions).

“Posting” as a noun for the item that is dispatched traces to 1556, according to the OED. “Post” as an item dispatched, though, first appeared in 1982, in the context of a computer “post.” (“Post” as a noun has existed for centuries, of course, but used for the means of sending something, not for the item being sent.) Now, the noun “post” is ubiquitous, though some dictionaries don’t yet list the sense of “a blog post” in their definitions.

“Ending” falls in the middle. You’re just as likely to say “I liked the ending of the movie” as you are to say “I liked the end of the movie.” But there’s a slight connotation twist here. “I liked the ending of the movie” hints more that you liked how the movie concluded; “I liked the end of the movie” can also mean you liked the fact that the movie concluded, not the way it did.

Some “ing” forms are still usually more common: “A kidnapping” is far more common than a “kidnap,” for example, and it’s unlikely anyone has ever said “I like the coach of the team” to mean the act of coaching, not the guy doing the coaching.

Gerunds are tricky business, because in most cases they are identical to the present participle forms of the verbs they have “nouned.” (The shuttle is “launching” next week.) But as nouns, they usually have an article before them—“the launching”; “a posting”; “an ending”—making it easier to tell a noun from a verb.

Note that using “launch,” “post,” “end,” or most other gerund-based nouns without their “ing” endings is not necessarily incorrect. It’s just another shortening that greases the evolution of language.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: , , , , ,