1. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    Past Tense and -ing Verbs

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by sorites, Dec 29, 2008.

    I read somewhere that you should avoid using present tense -ing verbs in a past tense narrative. The example was something like:

    The first is better than the second.

    I have a sentence, I'm not sure about. In the example, the -ing verb (grabbing) was being done by the subject (Bob), but in my sentence, the -ing verb (sitting) is being done by 'her', the prepositional object.

    Here's another one I have a problem with.

    I've tried to rewrite these lines, like this:

    The rewrites are acceptable, but are they necessary based on a verb tense issue like in the example above?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The main issue I would take with this sentence is that regardless of comma use, with whom these gerund verbs agree is very much in question. I honestly took it that Bob was the one smirking.

    I don't really find anything wrong with this sentence other than it is tell, not show. Your rewrite is much better in style in that it shows, not tells.

    Much better. This draws a picture for me rather than giving me dry facts.
     
  3. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to admit, I don't care for either of these. Imo, a much better way to state this would be:

     
  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Garmar, I would use the ing instead of the to eat.

    Bob grabbed another piece of pie and continued to eat.

    Bob grabbed another piece of pie and continued eating.

    Sorites

    Bob looked at her in the mirror, smirking, sitting on the bed.

    It seems like Bob is the one smirking and sitting because he is the subject of the sentence.

    Bob looked at her in the mirror. She smirked and sat on the bed.

    Bob caught her reflection in the mirror. Sitting on the bed, she smirked.

    There are so many ways you could write it.

    When Bob looked in the mirror, he saw her sitting on the bed, and she smirked.
     
  5. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It took me a while, but I get it now. I failed miserably at parts of speech in school, so I have mad issues with grammar. I was thinking 'eating' was the verb in this case, making it present tense and shifting tense. I realize after examining the sentence, it's the noun form. I'm hoping this will become second nature to me soon... :rolleyes:
     
  6. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    As others have said, this implies Bob is doing everything (looking, smirking, and sitting). There are a lot of ways this could be fixed:

    Of course, it's still possible to assume Bob is the one smirking, so I'll try again:

    Or, if you don't want to split it into two sentences:

    Personally, I feel this one is a little long. I'd probably go with:

    The last one seems to flow the best. Though it's not the shortest, it reads quicker and gets the point across clearly.
     
  7. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would also like to mention that the "or" in this line bothered me more than anything:
    Are they on the porch or the steps? They're two distinctly different locations. If they're hovering around that general area, then just say "their porches and steps." Saying "or" makes it feel like they're wherever the reader wants them to be. It's like saying, "I don't know where they are, so you (the reader) decide if you want them to be on the porch or the steps."

    As for the show vs. tell issue, I didn't see it as too big of a deal. Something as simple as talking and laughing doesn't require much showing. It could use some more interesting words, though. For example:

    or:
     
  8. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    Thanks for the responses.

    I think "continued eating" is a past progressive tense verb in the example above. This link is useful: http://mtsu32.mtsu.edu:11178/171/tenses.htm
    Since both verbs ("grabbed" and "continued eating") are past tense, the sentence works.

    If it read:

    or

    That would be bad because the verb tenses would no longer agree.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Participles (the "-ing" forms) imply continuing action. When they both occur within the same sentence, the implication is simultaneous activities. It may also imply a stronger relationship, such as common causality, betweem the participles.

    Usually, that is not what you mean to convey. Your first example makes Bob seem to be scrabbling repeatedly at the piece of pie - the eating is continuous, but he only takes the piece of pie as a single, atomic action. Therefore, the participle grabbing is not very appropriate.

    Get into the habit of examining all your participles that way. You'll quickly cut back on your use fo them in the first place, after you remove 90% of the ones you originally wrote in.

    You'll also find that you write simpler, more direct sentences, and your writing will be all the stronger for that.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    cog has nailed the main problem with using 'ing's... heed his advice!
     
  11. Daedalus
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    Daedalus Active Member

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    I think people are getting bogged down by rules too much. I've read countless (and I do mean countless) novels that use sentences like the one provided by the OP. Rules are meant as guidelines in writing. While they are meant to be followed, they aren't meant to be followed to a tee. For example: Some authors are strong advocates of never using fragment sentences. Other authors think they are a great tool when used correctly. As is the case with all writing.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Rules weren't just written by dusty professors in dustier faculty lounges. They come about because those who wrote them noticed that certain constructs make the writing muddy, or ambiguous, or dull as mallets.

    If someone is asking a question about SPaG, it really isn't all that helpful to proclain "F*** the rules, just do what you want."

    Yes, writers break the rules all the time. But first they should understand what the rule is, why it exists, and what they expect to gain by breaking it.
     
  13. Daedalus
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    Daedalus Active Member

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    You can't break a rule without first understanding what that rule is. I didn't mean that authors have the right to break rules. However, you hear all these "rules" being sprouted out by people all over the internet. Such as: Don't use passive writing. Don't use fragment sentences. Don't use the word "was" in your writing. Don't use adjectives. Don't use adverbs. Don't this. Don't that. If you read enough into it, you'll discover that most of these rules aren't obeyed by a lot of the published authors out there.
     
  14. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    True, but do they "violate" the rules by accident or with intent? I believe it to be the latter. If so, then they do understand the generally accepted principles and make a conscious effort to break the "rules" for achievement of an effect or to evolve a signature writing style. I tend to believe the best authors are fully aware of such deviations from the standard. Aspiring authors who frequent this site need to learn the general standards so they can CHOOSE when and how to deviate in their writing. It is discussions like this thread that teach newer writers that the "rules" of writing are meant as guidelines, not absolutes.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    let me add one last bit to cog and salty's sage advice:

    not all who are published are good writers!... as witness the best-selling author of 'the celestine prophecy' whose book reads as if it was written by a failing 5th grader...

    sure, some of the very finest of writers do bend and break the rules successfully on purpose, for effect... but some of the others you may have noticed doing it do so out of ignorance and from just being p***-poor writers...
     
  16. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's enlightening. I've been using participles rather freely just to indicate simultaneity. So writing, for example, "Brent rose from the chair, grabbing his keys" would make it sound like he grabbed for his keys several times while rising?
     
  17. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's another way to avoid "-ing" verbs. Don't countersink. "Bob grabbed a piece of pie."
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no, it would mean he was continuously grabbing them, during the entire time it took to 'rise' from the chair...

    just 'Brent grabbed his keys and got up' is all you needed there... if you keep your sentences 'in order' instead of putting things bassackwards, you won't get into that kind of trouble...
     
  19. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, mamma. I'll try to stay out of trouble from now on :p
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good lad!... now go get a cookie......
     

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