1. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Present Participial Phrases

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by lostinwebspace, Mar 19, 2011.

    Hello everybody. I've been lurking for a couple of weeks, but now have reason to post.

    An introduction: A present participial phrase is a part of a sentence that provides some kind of ongoing action, an "ing" phrase. For example, "You sit at your computer, reading this post." (Italics added to show the present participial phrase.) That might not be the best definition, but I'm tight for time.

    Now, I understand never to use one at the beginning of a sentence, and that present participial phrases are not great in a sentence elsewhere. Not an immediate publication killer, but only to be used sparingly. But every time I come across a rule about this, people only say that beginning a sentence (or clause) with a present participial phrase is bad, but don't say anything about having it elsewhere in the sentence, as if it's perfectly allowable.

    Is it true that these things are okay in the middle or at the end of a sentence? I know I might as well shoot myself in the foot for ever putting one at the beginning, but am I okay using them elsewhere?

    (And now my three-year-old daughter loves the smileys beside this text box and has asked me to use one. :D)
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's actually ok to use one anywhere, as long as you do it in a way that works well...
     
  3. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I was having a hard time using the progressive tense as well, and it confused the readers about the sentence being in the past tense or present tense. See, when I used "He walked outside, waving his hand encouraging his friend to "come here." I'm not sure the sentence was supposed to be all past tense, otherwise, it would be written like this: "He walked outside, waved his hand and encouraged his friend to "come here."
     
  4. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Remember that not all "-ing" words indicate present participal phrases. They are a particular problem for classification, and their classification can be ambiguous even when the sentence they are in is not.
    Beginning a sentence with a participal phrase is a bad thing? Why?

    Actually, "why" is always the question to ask when anybody produces a stylistic rule like this. What is the effect that the rule is trying to avoid? Do you actually want that effect? What do you think the effect of present participal phrases is?
     
  5. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Isn't "beginning a sentence with a participial phrase" technically a gerund, not a participial phrase?

    Anyway, I heard that the reason you don't is because it's easy to misplace your modifiers or make a sentence unclear by not being able to specify what parts of a sentence are modified by the phrase and what parts aren't. I know these are easily fixed problems as long as you're careful while editing, but I've heard of editors/publishers/agents who are very hardcore against it. Not all, but some. And I don't want to be the guy whose work goes to the slush pile because I happen to be unlucky by finding that one hardcore guy. Kind of like ending a sentence in a preposition: there's no reason why you can't, but there are a few **** who hate it.

    And I believe the spelling is "participial," not "participal."
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A gerund is a type of participle phrase, but it is a gerund only if it takes on the role of a noun in the sentence. e.g. "Playing with fire will get you burned." The participle phrase in this case is the subject of the sentence, so it is a gerund.

    However, if the sentence is, "Playing with fire, you might get burned," the participle phrase is not a gerund.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think so, because "beginning" is functioning as a verb even though "beginning a sentence with a participial phrase" as a whole is a noun phrase. To make it a gerund you could have "The beginning of a sentence with a participial phrase" (although so far that's ambiguous, because "beginning" could mean "start" rather than "starting", in which case it's a straightforward noun, not a gerund. It all depends on how the sentence continues).
     
  8. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I guess I have to look up gerunds again.

    At any rate, I guess it's acceptable to use present participials, but, like anything, it should be done only in moderation. So what's the moderation? I'm still at odds with what I should and shouldn't avoid with these sentence constructions. I've looked up sites on the Internet and have either gotten contradictory advice or gotten confused.

    I've got, for instance, an 87-page manuscript that uses fourteen (fifteen if you count that one is in a piece of dialogue that is repeated by another character verbotem immediately after) of the type I described in my original post. This might be just legalistic quantification, but is that too much? I've read and reread this manuscript and my ear doesn't pick up anything wrong, but I'm not as trained as an editor.
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's legalistic quantification. No sensible reader is going to complain about present participial phrases if they're loving what they're reading. If they don't like it and start looking for reasons to fault it, that's when they might start to pick on such things. Of course, some editors might have a particular dislike of them, but that's really just a question of whether they like your style or not. If you try to write in a style that absolutely everybody likes you will probably end up with a style that nobody likes and destroy your own writing voice. As Mamma says, it all comes down to whether you do it well, not how often you do it. You have a good idea of what the possible problems are, especially the problem of dangling participials. As long as you avoid those problems I doubt they'll give you any trouble.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Incidentally, when I was studying English grammar at university a few years ago (and yes, I have forgotten most of what I learned) we were told that linguists no longer talk about gerunds. What we have above, according to at least one of my grammar textbooks, is not a gerund and not a present participial but is a "verb controlling an -ing clause" (well, it becomes one when you finish the sentence; it's not a clause until you have the principle verb, "is"). So I confess that I'm not too sure about gerunds and might well get them wrong because none of the up-to-date grammars I have actually cover them except in historical notes.
     
  11. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    It's quite a relief to know I've been putting too much weight on participial phrases (and gerunds). I just counted 49 in a 119-page manuscript (I edited the others out) and, although that's still being legalistic, I just never know when enough is enough. When I read through my manuscript, my mind's ear doesn't pick them up. Then again, my ear's not as trained as an editor's. The closest two appear about three paragraphs apart. Don't know if that's too close, but I guess if readers don't get annoyed, I have to be doing something right.
     
  12. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Here's another question on the subject. Are "judging by" phrases or their ilk acceptable or misplaced modifiers? I'll give an example:

    Judging by how she used her nail file as a meat skewer, Patricia wasn't very health-conscious.

    Knowing how they worked, the local police probably weren't very thorough in their procedures.

    Having said that, we're not in the position to make the change.

    As the sentences imply, Patricia isn't doing the judging, the local police aren't doing the knowing, and we can't all have said that at the same time (I guess that last one's possible, but...). But we hear these all the time. Still, just because we hear these all the time doesn't mean they're right. Is this type of present participial phrase okay, or is it a misplaced modifier?
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would treat that as if "I believe that" were elided. "Judging by how she used her nail file as a meat skewer, I believe that Patricia wasn't very health-conscious." That elision is ok as long as there's an "I". In other words it's ok in dialog and for an active narrator. If the narrator does not appear as an "I", though, I don't think that elision is possible.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    agreed!
     

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