-ing words

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Ermo
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-ing words

Post by Ermo » September 23rd, 2010, 10:19 am

Ok, I have an -ing word issue, I think. Most of that problem is with participial phrases (and not gerunds). It's not gramattically incorrect and I've never had a beta reader identify it as an issue but I still think it is one. My problem is that I'm struggling to see how rewriting some of them makes my writing stronger.

Example: My sister stepped on the gas, spewing a shower of gravel on my shoes.

I know this isn't a particularly good sentence - I just made it up. But would you rewrite it like this? - My sister stepped on the gas and spewed a shower of gravel on my feet.

Does anyone else have this problem? How do you deal with it? What's the right balance of participial phrases? And do they put you off?

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polymath
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Re: -ing words

Post by polymath » September 23rd, 2010, 11:03 am

Ermo wrote:My sister stepped on the gas, spewing a shower of gravel on my shoes.
Dangling participle phrase. "Spewing a shower of gravel on my shoes" lacks a logical subject. My sister spewed a shower of gravel on my shoes? Not a pretty picture. The gerund phrase poses as an appositive phrase but is actually an incomplete run-in sentence from lacking a logical subject.
Ermo wrote:My sister stepped on the gas and spewed a shower of gravel on my feet.
Similar issue, lacks a logical subject and neither are concurrent nor sequential nor present-progressive actions of "my sister." My sister stepped and spewed? My sister stepped, spewing?

Both are common issues with gerund verbs. Another is uncoordinated category. Stepped and spewing. Narrative art's past-present verb (stepped) and present progressive verb (spewing).

The fundamental issue is sentence syntax. Subject, predicate (predicate compliment). What's the subject that spewed? An automobile is implied from "stepping on the gas." No need to detail that, per se. Rather which noun is the proper subject of the participle phrase, shower, gravel, or shoes? Gravel spewed on my shoes. Proper subject, predicate, predicate compliment syntax.

"Shower of gravel," though "shower" is a noun in that instance, it's grammatically awkward from repeating the spewed action, a tautology, and which implies a horizontal movement, where shower implies a vertical movement.

Gerunds are progressive verbs used to imply ongoing action. They can indicate concurrent or sequential actions, but it's a best practice to identify the subject of the action clearly. I.e.'s, My sister stepped on the gas. Spinning tires spewed gravel on my shoes, showered grit on my pants legs, peppered the roadway with meteors. She stepped on the gas, lead-footed fleeing, rushing toward the cliff. Note the former is a logical sequence of actions, the latter is logical, concucurrent, ongoing actions.
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Re: -ing words

Post by wonderactivist » September 23rd, 2010, 1:02 pm

I am not a grammatical person, but just as a reader perusing this example, I find the original sentence stronger and more interesting than any of the revisions y'all presented...sorry. Correcting grammar almost always leads to stronger prose, but sometimes it leads me to rewrite the whole thing to avoid the problem entirely. If that isn't stronger, I go back to the original. Sometimes grammatically correct doesn't feel dramatically correct.

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Re: -ing words

Post by bcomet » September 23rd, 2010, 1:21 pm

Hi. I think this is a VERY interesting topic.

In the past, I had a LOT of confusion over gerunds vs. present participle verbs.

I had a lively debate about the difference with an editor over poetry that utilized present participle verbs that she thought were gerunds.
Being old world, the editor was convinced that all ing words were gerunds and NOT to be used at any cost. (Imagine her ruler-toting English teacher rapping knuckles as she spied ings on papers.)

The fun was that it sent me on a fascinating journey researching ing use.

Apparently MANY people think that all ings are gerunds, but that isn't so.

http://grammar.about.com/od/basicsenten ... lswhat.htm

In poetry, Gertrude Stein was considered both progressive and a rebel in her use of continuing (present and ongoing),
present participle (ing) verbs.

(But that was a debate for poetry, not fiction.)

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J. T. SHEA
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Re: -ing words

Post by J. T. SHEA » September 23rd, 2010, 2:25 pm

I have no problem with the original sentence as a reader, Ermo, though it does, strictly speaking, imply the stepping and spewing occurred simultaneously. The narrator DOES spew a shower of gravel over the narrator's shoes by stepping on the gas. The process is indirect, of course, mediated by throttle linkage, engine, transmission, drive shafts, differential and wheels, but so is almost any driving action, like stopping or turning.

The second version is more correct but reads less well. 'My sister stepped on the gas and THEREBY spewed a shower of gravel on my feet.' might be even more correct but read even less well.

If in doubt, I usually divide sentences. 'My sister stepped on the gas. A shower of gravel washed over my feet.'

Of course, EVEN MORE (not politically) correct might be:- 'My sister stepped on the gas. But, being a woman, she had selected reverse by mistake, and the car jerked backwards, ran right over me, and killed me.'

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Re: -ing words

Post by bcomet » September 23rd, 2010, 2:34 pm

LOL Shea!

You bring up a consideration I wrestle with too:

Sometimes the "character" (and sometimes the narrator is a character too) doesn't use English like an English major.

I have a YA where (although I may cringe) the teens talk like teens (to my ear). I believe Alan Rinzler has an article that speaks to that too.

http://www.alanrinzler.com/blog/2010/02 ... velopment/

I still wrestle with it, especially when I am editing.

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Re: -ing words

Post by Margo » September 23rd, 2010, 3:21 pm

I do tend to use this construction in my writing. J.T. pointed out something that drives me crazy as a reader and that I watch out for as a writer, which is sentence construction that indicates the actions are happening at the same time instead of one after the other.

I don't mind the use of gerunds and find them handy for varying sentence structure and setting a certain flow through a paragraph. However, I think they're best used in moderation. I could certainly stand to cut a few.

I also like Lucie's comment about grammatically correct versus dramatically correct. That's a fine fine fine line to walk, though. Rewriting sentences to sidestep the issue works for me.
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polymath
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Re: -ing words

Post by polymath » September 23rd, 2010, 4:28 pm

What kind of editor doesn't know the difference between a gerund and a participle ing word? Not one whose suggestions I'd take verbatim, through their differences are subtle. A gerund is a progressive verb construction. A participle ing word is a verb-adjective uage. Gerund; was going, is going, will be going, past, present, and future progressive tenses. Participle verb; spun tires, spinning tires, to be spun tires, modifying nouns, past, present, future (infinitive) tenses. All gerunds take an ing ending, not all participles do. "Ending" is a gerund in that context, not a participle.

An ing word can be both gerund and participle verb. Spinning tires, the car fishtailed out of control. Antecedent adjective-verb participle clause, "spinning" modifying noun "tires" of "the car," and ongoing, progressive action. Both "modifying" and "ongoing" are participles and gerunds in those contexts.

Gerund only; Tires are going to abrade their rubber over time. Though that's grammatically awkward. Better: Tires abrade their rubber over time. But no ing gerund nor participle. Better also: Swing and a hit. The ball's going, going, gone. Perhaps best; Martha sailed all day basking in the early autumn sun. Would the parties present please introduce themselves, beginning from my left.

Participle only; Rapidly spinning tires raise a smokey pall. Note "spinning" takes an adverb.

The thing about voice, everday speech in everyday life is one thing. There's a fine line between artfully depicting everyday speech in narrative and grammatical awkwardness. Dangling participles are awkward. Any editor worth his or her salt won't let one go unremarked. If it's in an opening, I'm done reading and either preparing for a no-thank-you response or putting on my editor's hat. "Depiciting:" gerund, "dangling:" participle; "opening:" noun; "reading," "preparing," and "putting:" gerunds.
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Re: -ing words

Post by bcomet » September 23rd, 2010, 7:12 pm

Polymath said:

What kind of editor doesn't know the difference between a gerund and a participle ing word? Not one whose suggestions I'd take verbatim, through their differences are subtle.
Hence, my debate with her over this.
In her defense, she was Old World and some ideas had been drilled into her. It ended up being an interesting learning experience for me holding my ground against an "editor" and an exercise in diplomacy as we were friendly throughout.

Re: gerunds:

My understanding is:

A gerund is a verb form ending in -ing that functions in a sentence as a noun.

I'm not as versed in the technicalities and intricacies of language structure and semiotics as you seem. Much of the time, I really have to work at following some of your (very interesting) comments. So, I try to look for the simplified, easier to grasp explanation and example. And, of course, try to keep my mind open to learning (there is so much to learn while traveling) along the way to the story (where my interests are more deeply rooted).

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polymath
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Re: -ing words

Post by polymath » September 23rd, 2010, 9:01 pm

Sure, gerunds can function like nouns, or sentence subjects or objects actually, but not exclusively. Words that end in ing can be nouns in their own right, verbs or part of verb constructions, adjectives, or adverbs. Syntatically, gerunds can be parts of a subject, predicate, object, or a subject, predicate, or object compliment. The number of possible variables for gerunds is probably one of the more numerous of word functions in the English language.

One method of effectively testing for and perhaps more dynamically recasting a gerund is to change the tense. Keeping to the blaized trail, Martha hiked up Mount Priest. Kept to the blaized trail, Martha hiked up Mount Priest. The latter changes the meaning and therefore might not improve the sentence, but it does demonstrate a combined participle, gerund usage in the former. Participle usage from modifying noun "Martha." Recast sans gerund and participle usage; Martha hiked up Mount Priest. She kept to the blaized trail. All the examples herein are Tells, though. Recasting them to Shows is another matter for discussion.

Climbing Mount Priest, Martha kept to the blaized trail. Climbed Mount Priest, Martha kept to the blaized trail. The latter makes no grammatical sense and therefore demonstrates an exclusive gerund usage in the former. Note the former is not a dangling participle phrase because the antecedent clause modifies the subject of the main clause and is in a parallel verb category with the predicate clause; in other words, concurrent, ongoing action.

A novel's opening ideally engages reader rapport. "Opening" in that instance is a verbal noun, a product of turning a gerund verb into a noun form from shorthanded expression developed over time by descriptive living language usage. Longhanded, it would read . . . opening sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, scene, or act . . . Then it would be a participle function from adjective-verb form modifying a noun. However, testing by changing tense demonstrates it can't be a participle usage. A novel's opened sentence ideally engages reader rapport. Therefore, it's exclusively a noun usage, nothing gerund or participle about it.
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Re: -ing words

Post by sierramcconnell » September 24th, 2010, 11:47 am

I see nothing wrong with the sentance, but it's taken out of context and it's hard to see if it's redundant without what's around it.

Polymath, you never cease to confuse the hell out of me. XD
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Re: -ing words

Post by Mira » September 24th, 2010, 3:17 pm

Hi Ermo!

Well...this conversation is over my head, since I'm not well-versed in the ins and outs of grammer.

But I really don't see why that should stop me from giving you my opinion. Ha! :) But please disregard if it doesn't feel right.

Not knowing grammar, I tend to evaluate sentences based on flow and word choice.

I might not like the sentence: 'My sister stepped on the gas, spewing a shower of gravel on my shoes' because of the word choide 'spewed'. That's the type of word that can break a reader's trance. People are visualizing what you write, and 'spewing' can lead to many different visual images that may not be what you are trying to convey. But it really depends. The word choice might work really well - it depends on the context......

But I have no issue with the structure - it flows well, I think. That's really what I look for - flow.

If you must lose the -ing, though, you can break it into two sentences. My sister stepped on the gas. Gravel flew all over my shoes.

I like the first one better, though.

Hope that's helpful, for what it's worth. :)

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polymath
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Re: -ing words

Post by polymath » September 24th, 2010, 3:36 pm

You're welcome, serriamcconnell. One of these years you'll come up against a worthy editor assigned to copyedit your manuscripts and have as hard a time with the suggested revisions. Dangling modifiers are a common grammatical vice. There's probably somehow one or two in general might be grammatically virtuous in some context, but by and large, they might as well be considered universally grammatical vices. The issue is they're unsettling, confusing, and disrupt reading flow.

The grammatical issue with the example sentence is the dangling modifier clause, specifically a dangling participle clause. "My sister stepped on the gas, spewing a shower of gravel on my shoes." "Spewing a shower of gravel on my shoes" modifies nothing in the main clause, neither the subject "My sister," the predicate "stepped" nor the object "on the gas." Testing for sense by rearranging clause order. Spewing a shower of gravel on my shoes, my sister stepped on the gas. The sister spewed gravel? Stepping on the gas, my sister spewed gravel. Spewing gas, my sister stepped on the gravel. Stepping on gravel, my sister spewed gas. Non sequiturs all. It does not follow.
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Ermo
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Re: -ing words

Post by Ermo » September 27th, 2010, 11:25 am

Thanks everyone for the feedback! I've added an "-ing" check to my revisions and I evaluate each use for flow, dramatic effect, and proper grammar. I don't think I have as big of a problem as I originally thought after having conducted this check on a few chapters of my current WIP. The opinions on here really helped me formulate how I want to edit these in revisions and I really appreciate all of your help. Thanks!

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