Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!
This year, I’m focusing on two themes: Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.
Today’s a grammar day!
P is for Present Participle Phrase: in a sentence, a phrase using the –ing form of a verb as an adjective to modify a noun or noun phrase. (This is different from a gerund, or an –ing verb that acts as a subjective or objective noun.)
Though this might sound confusing, it’s really simple. When you write a phrase, using an –ing verb to describe a noun, (like I just did there,) that is a present participle phrase. Did you recognize the one I just used in that last sentence? I underlined it. We use them all the time when speaking, and we use them even more when writing. And that’s where the issue lies.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this sentence structure, and I use it just like everyone else, the issue comes down to its frequency. As an editor, as well as an experienced critique partner, I read a lot of manuscripts, especially debuts, but also experienced and previously published authors, as well, and undoubtedly, the one thing I see more than just about anything else—sans the missing comma, of course—is the overuse of the present participle phrase.
Sometimes, writers will use them in fifty to seventy-five percent of their sentences. So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, first off, it shows an inability to be creative with your writing, and it reads very sing-song-ish, which is distracting. It also shows that the writer isn’t truly aware of his or her writing.
Sentences within a paragraph need to be varied, in length, in rhythm, and in structure. It’s boring and monotonous to read the same type of sentence structure over and over again. After a first draft is completed, the author needs to read and analyze each separate sentence, each separate word, revising it so it’s different from the ones right before and right after. While present participle phrases are fine every now and then, try to keep them down to three or less per page.
I used to be a big PPP offender. I never even noticed it until I critiqued with a college English professor. She pointed it out, and I’ve become very sensitive to it ever since. Even still, I tend to overuse it, and cringe when I read back over my work. Thank God for the editing process!
What about you? Do you find yourself overusing this particular type of sentence structure?