Those Glaring Gerunds…

Ravennas Monday MumblingsWelcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!

Today I’d like to talk about words that end in ING – gerunds and present participles.

I hear you groaning, but stick with me. This is good stuff and will clean up your writing considerably.

Every gerund, without exception, ends in ING. Gerunds are not, however, all that easy to identify, because present participles also end in ING. What’s the difference?

Gerunds function as nouns. Thus, gerunds will be subjects, subject complements, direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions.

Her first love is swimming.

Swimming is the subject complement of the verb is.

swimming-pool-and-deckPresent participles, on the other hand, complete progressive verbs or act as modifiers.

She practices her sport in swimming pools.

Swimming modifies pools.

See the difference? Good. My next point, though, is to be careful when beginning sentences with ING words. Why? Several reasons.

dangling_modifier_ornament_roundIt’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with a word ending in ING, but be aware that you run the risk of writing a sentence fragment or a dangling modifier. Here are examples:

Combing his hair as he pulled on his jacket. FRAGMENT. This is not a complete sentence.

He was combing his hair as he pulled on his jacket. CORRECT.

shoes-looking-at-one-anotherLooking at her shoes, the toes were scuffed up. DANGLING MODIFIER. Who is looking at her shoes? Certainly not the toes of those shoes.

While looking at her shoes, she realized the toes were scuffed up. CORRECT and flows better.

Another reason to be careful is beginning too many sentences with ING words creates echoes. 

Picking up the phone, he walked into the other room and placed it on the table. Glancing out the window, he wondered whether it would rain. Scrolling through his text messages, he looked for one in particular. 

See how freaking annoying as hell that gets after only a few? Think I’m exaggerating? I wish I could say I am, but I’ve seen books like this. *shudder*

One final reason is you run the risk of having your character perform two actions simultaneously, but which would be physically impossible the way you’ve written it.

both-hands-fullGrabbing her purse, she carried the antique relic carefully with both hands and ran to the bus stop.

Here, your heroine has grabbed her purse, but she’s also carrying an antique relic. Unless the purse is the antique relic, in which case you can do better with this sentence. She only has two hands (unless she’s an alien with more than two!) and you have her holding the antique relic with both, in addition to her purse.

Use those ING words at the beginning of a sentence, by all means, but use them SPARINGLY. And be careful you haven’t created a sentence fragment, a dangling modifier, or written your character performing impossible or improbable physical feats.

Until next week… Happy Writing!!

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