The Answers


The Spectator
17 October 2015
N.M. Gwynne’s diary: Old names worth dropping.

Encounters with Peregrine Worsthorne, Joan Reinhardt and the Dowager Duchess of Grafton.

As I get older (and my 74th birthday is now close), I get deeper and deeper into nostalgia. I do not fight this, because nostalgia seems to me to be rational as well as agreeable. Things really aren’t what they once were. ‘But people have always said that,’ is often the response. Yes, and for the most part, I maintain, people have always been right. So it is that, whenever I leave my present home in Ireland for a visit to England, what I most enjoy there is seeing the most elderly of my friends. Having been around for so long, they have so much to talk interestingly about. Indeed, I rather wonder whether anyone anywhere could be more interesting — or, as it happens, more name-droppable — than those whom I called on during my recent visit.

First, this time: Perry Worsthorne, now aged 91. As the public’s memory of him fades, it is worth recalling that in his day he was the leading serious journalist in Britain, with, if my memory serves, no rival within sight. From the moment that my interest in politics started, his articles were influencing me, and indeed are responsible for views that I still hold today. That this beacon and I should end up becoming close friends was of course unimaginable. He was a real conservative at a time when the Conservatives had already ceased to be conservatives. ‘England’s problems began with the 1832 Great Reform Bill,’ was his typically pithy summary to me the other day — deliberately extravagant in its wording, of course, but certainly not unseriously intended. In his career, he got to know just about ‘everyone’. For what someone of renown was really like, from President Kennedy to Evelyn Waugh, he is easily my most interesting source.

Next, to Onslow Square for a cup of tea with Joan Reinhardt, aged 90 — a wonderful talker who has had an extraordinary life. Astonishingly, she became casting director at New York’s NBC television network at the age of 23. After initially resisting her urgings to promote her to that important job, her producer caved in — ‘for a couple of weeks until I find someone else’. The two weeks stretched… until not long afterwards NBC needed an exceptionally beautiful woman for some part and Joan recommended a certain Grace Kelly whom she had noticed in occasional bit-parts. ‘Much too drab,’ protested the producer when he saw her in the flesh. ‘I promise, she is very photogenic,’ insisted Joan. Soon after the series started, Miss Kelly was noticed by MGM, and was off to Hollywood where for six years she played on-screen and off-screen with all the leading men, until… Monaco. Joan reckons that Grace’s marriage was another career move. ‘Marrying [Prince] Rainier was probably the right thing to do,’ Grace said rather gloomily, as Joan tells it. ‘I did not want, for the rest of my working life, to be getting out of bed at 4 a.m. to be at the studio.’ Later on, Joan married Max Reinhardt, owner of the Bodley Head press; and she has plenty to say about such authors as Charlie Chaplin and Graham Greene. Someone surely ought to interview Joan.

Next day to Chelsea to see the oldest of my elderlies, Fortune, all of 95, widow of my godfather, the Duke of Grafton, directly descended from King Charles II and the courtesan Barbara Villiers. Fortune spent much of her life first as HM’s Mistress of the Bedchamber and then as Mistress of the Robe, the most senior position. This time I asked her who had impressed her most, of those whom she had met in her travels with HM. For ‘charisma’, Clinton and Mandela stood out, was her considered reply.

Finally to SW11 for a quick visit to Will and Xenia Buckhurst; not elderlies but scarcely less name-droppable — Will’s father’s title-name, De La Warr, is responsible for the name of the identically pronounced American state, and Xenia in her maidenhood was a Russian countess. It was not long before we were discussing when their 20-month-old son William should start learning Latin. ‘Immediately after his third birthday,’ I urged with my usual zeal. He will find amo-amas-amat just as easy to recite as eeny-meeny-miny-mo; he can have most of Latin grammar memorised by the time, aged about seven, he is capable of applying what he has learnt; and, as children do, he will have much enjoyed the learning process.
The Spectator has invited me to include a ‘fiendish’ grammar test. Here goes. ‘She is washing in boiling water yesterday’s washing in the washing machine that she uses for washing clothes.’ What parts of speech (including the grammatical part of any verb) are ‘boiling’ and each instance of ‘washing’? The first correct solution submitted to The Spectator wins a bottle of Pol Roger. See the letters page and in two weeks’ time for the answers.

Please email your answers to
N.M. Gwynne is the author of Gwynne’s Grammar and Gwynne’s Latin.

The Spectator
7 November 2015 (Letters page)

Answers: short version.

Gwynne’s grammar test.

Because of the demanding nature of the test (Diary, October 17), the answers really need to be accompanied by supporting explanations, for which there is insufficient space here. A full discussion of the answers will be found on the main page of my website.
The test. Give the parts of speech, including the grammatical part of any verbs, of “boiling” and every instance of “washing” in the sentence, “She is washing in boiling water yesterday’s washing in the washing machine that she uses for washing clothes.”
The answers.  “boiling”: Present participle (verb-adjective).  First “washing”: Taken with “is”, continuous present tense, active voice and indicative mood. By itself, present participle.   Second “washing”: Either gerund (verbal noun) or gerundive. Third “washing”: Noun acting as an adjective ( “noun-adjective”).   Fourth “washing”: Gerund, acting both as a noun and as a transitive verb.
I have provisionally chosen the winner, but, because I do not claim infallibility, the announcement will be made next week, just in case anyone should wish to dispute any of the above answers in the meantime.
N. M. Gwynne
Co Wexford, Ireland.

Answers: full version.

“Fiendish” grammar test in Spectator, 17th October 2015, page 11.

The test
“She is washing in boiling water yesterday’s washing in the washing machine that she uses for washing clothes.”
What parts of speech (including the grammatical part of any verb) are “boiling” and each instance of “washing”?

Introductory notes:

1. Where two or more answers submitted by readers are correct, the more complete and/or exact answer is preferred for the purpose of awarding the prize. Thus, for instance, “present participle” is given a higher rating than “participle”, and “gerund” higher than “noun” or even “verb-noun”.
2. I do not claim infallibility, and anyone who considers an answer of mine to be disputable is welcome to dispute it, with the reason for disputing it of course clearly given.
The answers
“Boiling”: — A present participle (commonly referred to as a “verb-adjective”), in effect an adjective describing the noun “water”.
The word “washing” in “She is washing”: — In conjunction with “is”, it is the continuous present tense, active voice and indicative mood, of “to wash”. Present participle would also be correct parsing if taking the word strictly by itself, because the continuous present tense is formed by combining the verb “to be”, when used as an auxiliary verb, with the present participle.
The word “washing” in “yesterday’s washing”: — I shall defer consideration of this until the end of these notes.
The word “washing” in “washing machine”: — A noun which is in effect acting as an adjective (a “noun-adjective”). Other examples of the same construction are “cricket bat” and “Queen Elizabeth”. (When such phrases have been used for long enough, they tend to become hyphenated, as in “noun-adjective” above, or even merged into one word, as in “daydream”.) It should be noted that “washing” is not a present participle there. If it were, the machine would be actually doing the action of washing at the time, rather than simply being a machine for washing with.
The word “washing” in “for washing clothes”: — A gerund, which is a verb acting as a noun (as also is the infinitive mood). In this instance, the word “washing” is acting both as a noun and as a transitive verb (with “clothes” as the object of the transitive verb).
Finally, the word “washing” in “yesterday’s washing”: — Grammar textbooks and dictionaries would unite in classing the “washing” there as a noun, another instance of the gerund. I am by no means satisfied that all the reference-books would be right, however! In Latin, there is a construction called the gerundive, which is in the passive voice and means “ought to be”, “fit to be”, and even simply “to be” when followed by a past participle in English. I have never seen the gerundive mentioned in any grammar textbook, and yet, on the face of it, it certainly exists, mainly as untranslated Latin. Examples are “addendum” (“a thing to be added”), “agenda” (“things to be done”), “corrigenda” (“things to be corrected”), “memorandum” often shortened to “memo” (“a thing to be remembered”), “referendum” (“something to be referred”, usually to an electorate) and even “Amanda” and “Miranda” (ladies “worthy to be to be loved” and “worthy to be admired” respectively).
Furthermore, “washing” there certainly cannot be an ordinary gerund, a noun, because that would imply the act of washing, as in “washing is for removing dirt”. Rather, it must be a gerundive adjective, with — as in the other cases — the noun it is describing being “understood”. In other words, the strict meaning of “yesterday’s washing” is “yesterday’s things to be washed” or “yesterday’s things that ought to be washed”.
Nevertheless, I am certainly not going to defy every grammar-textbook and dictionary when deciding on a prize-winning answer; and I am therefore going to allow “gerund, or verbal noun” as correct. I can indeed justify this decision by saying that it could be argued that what I have been doing above is describing how it has come about that we now say “yesterday’s washing”, rather than parsing the word in accordance with the rules laid down or accepted by standard reference-books which deal with the subject.
I hope that all those who have looked at this test and these answers found them not only brain-sharpening but in fact fun as well. It is nothing short of a tragedy that grammar, regarded as the necessary foundation of education century after century until the 1960s, has by now been almost entirely abolished – indeed to the extent that, as has been noted very recently in the press, even very many teachers no longer know the grammar-basics – thereby attacking real education at its very root.
N. M. Gwynne

For The Spectator to include in the Letters page of the 14th November 2015 issue.

Gwynne’s grammar test – the prize-winner.

Out of twenty-nine attempts at my grammar test (Diary, 17 October), all of them classy by the standards of today’s general competence in grammar, a single one of them combined being error-free with being sufficiently exact to exclude any ambiguity. This was submitted by Mr. David Mackie, who accordingly, courtesy of the Spectator, will shortly be receiving the prize of a bottle of Pol Roger.
Shortly after submitting his entry, Mr. Mackie sent me an e-mail mainly devoted to disputing one of the elaborated answers that I put on my website at the same time as giving the “bare-bones” answers in last week’s (November 7) Spectator. And so interesting and well-argued is what he said that I have added his e-mail (and my answer to it) to that page on my website ( for the enlightenment and/or entertainment of anyone fancies some brain-sharpening reading.
N. M. Gwynne
Co. Wexford, Ireland

Correspondence with the winner, Mr. David Mackie.

Sent: 05 November 2015 20:38
Subject: Spectator grammar test

Dear Mr Gwynne,
Thank you for the enjoyable recent grammar test in the Spectator. I have just been reading the answers on your web site with interest.
You have been good enough to invite comments and/or protests. I have a few remarks, especially about your proposed answers with respect to the second instance of ‘washing’.
You are surely right that the second instance of ‘washing’ cannot by any stretch of the imagination be a gerund. A gerund is a noun that denotes the activity which subjects may be represented as performing by finite tenses of the verb. The washing that you put in the washing machine is not an activity. It’s a pile of clothes and similar items. That instance of the word ‘washing’ cannot be the name of the activity of washing, and so it is not a gerund.
(Indeed, the only thing that I would dispute in this part of your notes is the claim that ‘grammar textbooks and dictionaries would unite’ in classing this as a gerund. I think they would unite in classing it as a noun; and that they’d be right! It is a collective noun denoting a set of things which are to be, or have recently been (and the underlined phrase is important: see below), subject to a process in which they are or were washed.)
This is where your proposal comes in that we might class this instance of ‘washing’ as a gerundive. To my mind, that cannot be right either, for a variety of reasons.
First, though admittedly not decisively, one relatively orthodox view is that English has no single-word gerundive form. There are particular English adjectives (such as ‘praiseworthy’ and ‘deplorable’) that, as standardly used, carry the same sense of passive obligation as a Latin gerundive. But there is no general ‘formation rule’ allowing construction of a gerundive from no matter what transitive verb. By way of general formation, the closest we can get to anything gerundival in English is some locution like ‘needing to be loved’ or ‘fit to be destroyed’. The most obvious single-word instances of words conveying this sense of passive obligation in English are, as you say, borrowings from Latin (or, as in ‘memo’, abbreviations of such borrowings).
Secondly, a gerundive is a passive adjective. But what is to be put in the washing machine is some thing, or collection of things, that are denoted in the sentence by a noun.
Now: someone might say, as you do, that ‘washing’ is a sort of shorthand for ‘things needing to be washed’. But even if that is true, it is not enough (I think) to make good the case for saying that ‘washing’ in this sense is a gerundive. It is still, in my view, a noun.
Consider the borrowed words like ‘agenda’, ‘memorandum’, etc. A case can be made against classing these as gerundives when used in English. Latin differs from English in that it is capable of letting what is grammatically an adjective (the gerundive) denote a person or thing or set of things, and thus function for syntactical purposes as if it were a noun. We can’t do that in English: we need to say ‘the thing(s)/person(s) needing to be ……’. Since this is so, the rational way to classify things is surely to say that, when we use the word ‘agenda’ in English, we are using what is a Latin gerundive but an English noun.
As for names like Amanda, again the rational thing to say is that a word that would in Latin be a gerundive has been adopted as an English proper noun. But unless we are (absurdly) to abandon the thesis that proper nouns are nouns and not adjectives, we had better not say that the name ‘Amanda’ in English is a gerundive.
Thirdly, your case for saying that ‘washing’ here is a gerundive depends entirely on the thesis that it means ‘things needing to be washed’ – that the sense of obligation characteristic of many uses of the gerundive in Latin is present in the meaning of the English word ‘washing’ as used here. But that too is dubious. What, after all, do you take out of the washing machine at the end of the cycle? The washing, of course. You then hang the washing on the line, or whatever. But at that point it doesn’t need washing. It’s clean. It is not a collection of things needing to be washed.
Now consider the sentence ‘I put the washing in the machine at 11am, and took the same washing out an hour later.’
Now, if you insist that the first ‘washing’ in that sentence is a gerundive, you would seem to have to say that the two instances of ‘washing’ are of different grammatical categories – the first a gerundive and the second not. But that cannot be a plausible view – not when the obvious solution is to say that ‘washing’ is simply a collective noun meaning ‘set of things which are to be, or have recently been, washed.’
As to the third instance of ‘washing’ (in ‘washing machine’). I was not familiar with the term ‘noun-adjective’ to classify this usage, I hope (if I am in the frame at all) that my election to call it (as the British Council does) a ‘noun-modifier’ is not fatal to my hopes. I believe that I may once have been taught to call this same usage an ‘adjunct noun’.
With best wishes
David Mackie

From: Mr. N. M. Gwynne []
Sent: 09 November 2015 12:15
To: ‘David Mackie’
Subject: RE: Spectator grammar test

Dear Mr. Mackie,
Thank you for your exceptionally interesting and well-argued response. Indeed, if you have no objection, I may well want to add it to that page of my website.
Before I start disputing anything you say, I should make the following clear:
1. I judge – if I may be so bold as to use that term! – all your answers to be correct.
2. I think you may end up the winner! There is one competitor who submitted his answers before you did and would therefore be the winner if his answers were as good as yours. But I have two problems with his answers.
One is that he used the term “present progressive tense” where you and I would say “present continuous tense” (me) or “continuous present tense” (you) and, although I do not see how I can pronounce it to be wrong because it is very much used as a definition today, I do not like it: in the first place, I suspect it to be only a recent, modern usage. In the second place, it seems to me to be illogical. I have always been able to understand what the actual words “present continuous” or “continuous present” mean in the context, but I cannot understand how that tense represents something that is in progress, because progress usually implies advancement or even improvement. I wonder what your views on that are.
The other problem is that he answered the “washing” in “washing machine” with “part of a compound noun”; and, although that is accurate as far as it goes, I don’t think it is adequate – because it leaves open the question of which part of the compound noun.
Anyway, I am not committing myself yet, because I shall be wanting to take one last careful look through the answers before finalising things, but I think it quite likely that you have won.
Now on to some of what you said that I reckon to be disputable: –
1. “Consider the borrowed words like ‘agenda’, ‘memorandum’, etc. A case can be made against classing these as gerundives when used in English.”
In those two particular cases, yes. I think that they are clearly nouns. This is evidenced by the fact that one can have agendas and memos. In other words, a memorandum is not a single thing “to be remembered” but a group of things “to be remembered” which of course is not the case in their Latin originators.
I do not think it is clear in the case of some of the other gerundives used in English, though. Addendum surely means “that which should be added” and in the plural it means “a number of things which should be added”. Similarly with corrigendum and corrigenda. In other words, those two words are different in their meanings from the two that you mentioned.
Where “Amanda” and “Miranda” fit in logically to this argument, I cannot work out; but undoubtedly the name of the person rather than a description of the person is a noun, with the gerundive merely indicating how that noun came into existence.
How have I done so far?
2. The term “a washing line” certainly seems to support your case for “washing” is not being a gerundive in that context. I am not completely certain about your earlier argument though. It is more of grammar-philosophy point than an actual practical grammar point. But, allowing myself really to split hairs (and I myself regard splitting hairs as a virtue rather than a vice, though of course all virtues can cease to be virtues if taken to far), could it not be argued that, when the washing is about to go into the dish-washer, it is a substitute-word for the gerundive “fit to be washed” whereas, when it emerges, it is transformed into a substitute for “having been washed”, a past participle?
In the phrase “washing line”, by contrast, I think it must be a noun-modifier or adjunct-noun (a term which I had never come across before but is certainly correct). As to noun adjective, I cannot remember where I got that term from, and it is possible that I invented it; because none of the many grammar-textbooks in my shelves seem to deal with nouns in that context properly. Do you by any chance remember the name of the textbook or textbooks where you yourself originally got those terms from? Or were you taught them by a schoolmaster without reference to any textbooks?
If I allow myself to keep that term, perhaps “adjectival noun” would be a more correct version of it.
I need hardly say that what I have argued in this number 2 has nothing to do with my judgement as to the correct answers for the purpose of this test! I should be interested in your views on what I have said, though.
With best wishes from Ireland,
Nevile Gwynne.

The correspondence is continuing, and further correspondence will be put up here in due course.