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Saturday, June 16, 2018


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Dear Simon
I disagree with you. As far as I know the original sentence could be sth like this:

There is a danger of nuclear weapons which are being obtained by terrorist.

This is reduction of adjective clause. I mean "which are " can be omitted.

The original sentence could also be reformulated as:
There is a danger of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons.

The graph below shows that either approach is equally possible:


Although the phrases "of his being" and "of my being" (using the possessive) still seem to preponderate over "of him being" and "of me being" on google books, these now seem to be more of an exception. There now seems to be no need to use a possessive with a noun in this situation.

The grammar, it seems, remains a uniquely English idiom.

An alternative approach might be:

One danger is the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists



The English syntax in this particular context is actually more like:

There is a danger of [nuclear-weapons-being obtained-by-terrorists].

- where the hyphenated phrase in brackets is one idea acting like a noun, and "being" is a gerund-noun controlled by the preposition "of".

It is often impossible to mimic this English structure in another language, so your approach may be useful as an aid to grasping the general idea.

Dear Simon

I have the same idea as Morteza, would you please tell us your comment about his idea?
Thank you.


The -ing ending on a verb in English can be used either as a noun (ie a gerund) or as an adjective, as in a boring teacher.

This leads us to a sentence (A) where "being obtained" is in fact being used as a reduced adjectival clause in the way Morteza suggests:

A) Nuclear weapons, being obtained by terrorists, are indeed a grave threat.

Notice that here "nuclear weapons" is the subject of the sentence and that the verb is accordingly plural. This sentence also asserts that nuclear weapons are in fact being obtained by terrorists.

Contrast this with sentence (B) below where the whole idea is the subject of the sentence and "being" is not adjectival but a gerund/noun:

B) Nuclear weapons being obtained by terrorists is indeed a grave threat.

Note that the verb is singular as it is just the one idea that is the subject of the verb and sentence. Also note that there is no assertion that nuclear weapons have in point of fact already been obtained by terrorists.

I hope this helps, but the distinction is pretty fine.


Using an infinitive in this situation is uncommon in English:

For terrorists to obtain nuclear weapons would also represent a grave threat

However in some languages the infinitive is normally used in this way:

"The infinitive in Persian is normally equated with the English infinitive, but it is more like the English gerund, that is, a verb in -ing when it does not represent a progressive form as in “Reading is good”: خواندن کار خوبی است xāndan kār-e xubi ast “Reading is good.” Therefore, in Persian an infinitive also functions as a gerund."


a) ...to lessen the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used in future war

b) ...the failure of a number of States to accede to the Treaty still involves great dangers of nuclear weapons being proliferated.

c) ...signed a treaty limiting the number of nuclear weapons being produced by the two super powers

d) The point of nuclear weapons being cost-effective comes in at this juncture.

e) ...is the direct result of nuclear weapons being detonated.

f) ...in spite of nuclear weapons being deployed on its territory by the United States

g) ..we have helped Russia increase the security of nuclear weapons being returned from forward deployment for dismantlement..

So in which instances is "being" adjectival and in which instances a gerund/noun?

There is a danger of drug being used by youngster.
There is a classical novel in the library being read by intermediate students.


Morteza and Oleg,

I've just updated the lesson above with a more detailed explanation. Your comments forced me to improve the lesson (I hope!), so thanks for your help.


a) "There is a danger of [drugs-being-used-by-youngsters]." This is one big noun phrase

b) "There is a classical novel in the library (which is) being read by intermediate students." This is an adjectival phrase: you can leave out "which is".

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