Friday, October 10, 2014

Minding Your "ings" Part Two

Last time we discussed the need for present participles (a form of verb that ends in “ing”) to be paired with a subject that performs the action. For instance:

     As Brad was running to the bus stop, rain began to fall.
In this example, both actions (running and began to fall) have a subject attached (Brad and rain, respectively), so the sentence is constructed correctly. We’re good so far. Now take a look at this example:

     Running to the bus stop, Brad climbed onto the bus.

Once again, the participle is not dangling—Brad is performing both actions (running and climbed). So what was wrong with this sentence?

You may remember that in the last post, I mentioned that the phrase “Running to the bus stop,” was a type of adverbial phrase—a phrase that acts like an adverb. Adverbs modify verbs, adding more detailed information as to how the action was performed. Words like quickly or suspiciously are adverbs, as is the phrase “like a ___.” (He landed like a cat.)

“Running to the bus stop,” is an adverbial phrase that tells us when the primary action of the sentence (climbed) was performed—it was performed while Brad was running to the bus stop. And that’s the problem with our example sentence: Brad couldn’t have climbed onto the bus while he was running to the bus stop. He would have run to the bus stop and then climbed onto the bus.

Now, just like last time, you don’t have to remember that whole explanation about adverbs and adverbial phrases. (Though it won’t hurt your writing if you do!) What you need to remember is this: phrases with “ing” verbs are used to imply simultaneous action. If the two actions don’t take place at the same time, you cannot use the “ing” form of the verb. (Most of the time. I’ll show you an exception in a moment.)

So, here’s a corrected version of our previous sentence:

     Brad ran to the bus stop and climbed onto the bus.

Bam! First one action, then another—it doesn’t get any simpler than that.  However, here is another fix:

     After running to the bus stop, Brad climbed onto the bus.
This is the exception that I mentioned earlier. If you add an adverb that changes the timing of the adverbial phrase, such as after or before, so that the actions are no longer simultaneous, then you can still use the “ing” verb.

The same principles apply to phrases that begin with while and as—these words imply simultaneous action, so they cannot be used with actions that couldn’t take place simultaneously.

But wait, this isn't all! For more on minding your "ings," check out this post.

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