Saturday, August 21, 2010

What's the deal with -ing?

So, (have you noticed I start nearly all posts with "so" :)) there are two types of -ing phrasing that can be an issue in writing. It is important to note that BOTH are grammatically correct. What's the problem then? The problem is that writing is about storytelling and good storytelling should be tight.

Have you ever heard a story told by a long-winded friend or family member? They go on and on and before long you begin to wonder A - what's the point to this story again and B - when will the story end!

This is the issue with -ing phrasing. Again, storytelling should be tight and PPP’s, at least, can lend themselves to very long sentences that make no sense at all. Some are good, but too much can be as bad as over salting french fries - you're ruining them! :) But, I digress.

There are two types – gerund (or gerundive if you like to be fancy) phrases and present participial phrases (PPP).

What's the difference, you may ask? They are VERY often confused. I read a tweet today from a very public person in the writing world, that comments constantly on "gerundive phrases" when I would bet, yet again, my favorite pair of 7's the tweeter (Ha! I almost typed twit, on accident...maybe.) is talking about PPP's at least half the time.

Let's delve into them, shall we? Simply put, a gerund phrase functions as a noun, whereas a PPP functions as an adjective.

First, let's go over a few easy ways to tell the difference then I'll list a few examples:

1. PPP cheat - If the -ing phrase starts the sentence and ends with a comma followed by a stand alone sentence, then often not, it's a PPP. This type of sentence is commonly used, but rarely makes for easy reading. Check out the example below:
EXAMPLE: Washing the car, Jason hurt his back.

2. GP cheat - The -ing begins the sentence and is immediately followed by a verb. So you have – GP, verb, infinitive
EXAMPLE: Running a mile is great exercise.

3. PPP's can require commas for various reasons. If you can remove it from the sentence, wherever the placement, then commas are necessary. If you cannot and it is a vital part of the sentence then no commas. A GP will practically never require commas.

Now it gets complicated:

PPP - The bartender even saw Jason falling off the stage.

GP - Jason hates falling off the stage.

Okay - my brain is fried now. I hope this helps and that you can see why too many of the above can be an issue!

And now, links to give you more details and examples:

Purdue's GP explanation -
Purdue's PPP explanation -

M.B. :)

1 comment:

  1. haha I think I've been reading the same tweets that you have. ;-)

    Thanks for the clarification! I definitely need to think more carefully about my grammar as I go into my next round of edits!