Thursday, April 18, 2013

A to Z Challenge: P is for Present Participle Phrase

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?


mooderino said...

I try not to use it as much as possible. Avoiding it is difficult, though :)

Moody Writing

Rhonda said...

I never really thought about it before right now. I will be watching in the future.


Sheena-kay Graham said...

I did not know this. Thanks for sharing.

JeffO said...

I probably do. I'll have to take another look.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm sure I use it! Just like LY words, although I'm much better now. And at varying sentence length. All comes from practice.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I don't think I use it much. And I'm glad to know exactly what it is.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I worry about this so much, my first book, I seriously took out every single ing word. My editor thought I was totally insane! I guess it's about balance. I'm still learning that balance.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I had a critique partner once who wouldn't allow even one. I tried to explain that variation is good, but she would have nothing of it. LOL. We parted ways. She was so focussed on words like THAT, AND, and ING verbs she drove herself and me crazy.

Robin said...

This is something I NEVER even thought about before. I will try to be more aware of it in my daily writing in my blog to see how often I do it.

Julie Luek said...

Thanks for the awareness!

C. Lee McKenzie said...

Reading aloud helps me catch the sing-songy stuff as well as the repetitious structures. I find myself falling into the "as he, as she" pattern a lot, so I ax those whenever I catch them.

Heather M. Gardner said...



Carrie Butler said...

Thank God for the editing process, indeed!