The Angry Grammarian

Social networking goes grammatical.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 11, 2009

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What form of speech is "facebooking"? I was involved in a heated debate and near traffic accident over whether it's a gerund or past participle. Please help me preserve my current auto insurance rate by helping me put this important question to rest.

To start, the source of your near-wreck could have been that you were meaning present participle ("We were facebooking for hours last night"), not past ("He facebooked me so much that I eventually had to block him").

That said, the question is still valid. If you begin with the dictionary--as you always should--in 2007 Merriam-Webster placed "facebook" as No. 2 on their list of words of the year. (It lost out to the enragingly annoying "w00t.")

Of M-W's eight definitions for "facebook" and three definitions for "facebooking," every single one is a verb. Whether referring to searching, adding friends or good ol' stalking, the dictionary calls it a verb, which suggests "facebooking" is a present participle. What's more, the question itself grows out of last week's column on verbing nouns--a practice that plenty of traditionalists oppose.

But of course it's never that simple. Gerunds look the same as present participles, and it's all a question of how it's used. A quick and dirty survey on the site itself showed people using it as a noun, which is the gerund form: "the act of finding someone and adding them as a friend on facebook"; "what I'm doing right now while I should be working"; "a tool that makes the job of Internet stalkers really, really easy"; "the latest trend in our culture of oversharing to narrate every minute of our lives, even though no one else cares that we're about to go brush our teeth." (You hear that, "25 Random Things" people? I don't care that you're allergic to ferrets.)

So it all depends on context. The basic form "to facebook" is a verb, but what you do with it from there--whether you make it into a participle, a gerund or a quick way to be creepy--is up to you.

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