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Writing Advice—What About -ing Words (Part Four)

April 8, 2015 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified September 9, 2015

2015 Writing Advice Series

Listen or Ignore (Part 1)

Weighing the Advice (Part 2)

Behind the Advice (Part 3)

What About -ing Words (Part 4)

Related Articles

Smiling or Laughing Dialogue

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We’ve been looking at writing advice, learning how to determine whether it’s good or bad and how to investigate the motivation behind the advice. In this article we’re going to look at specific advice regarding words ending in –ing.

I’ve heard several variations of advice for using words that end in –ing:

never open a sentence with an –ing word

verbs ending in –ing mark you as an amateur, so don’t use them

cut all –ing words

Surely those advice mavens don’t mean we can’t ever use words that end in –ing. That wouldn’t make sense.

Let’s look at the rationale behind this advice, but do so while considering the different word types that end in –ing.

 

Nouns

Nouns such as ring, bling, sibling, ending, and so forth are not usually what an advice giver is focused on when he tells a writer to not use –ing words. Yet a new writer, not understanding the limits of the advice, might assume she can’t use any –ing words. But unless someone points out that you inadvertently rhymed nouns ending in –ing, creating a sing-songy sound or Seussian pattern, you can safely assume that most advice regarding –ing words doesn’t apply to nouns. Feel free to use them as needed, given what you already know about choosing words that fit.

 

Adjectives

Plenty of adjectives end in –ing. A few examples—

sobbing children

trembling hands

disgusting mess

surprising yet satisfying story

The advice you hear about not using –ing words usually doesn’t pertain to adjectives either. And yet once again your critique partner or a beta reader might mention that you specifically have used too many –ing words, this time adjectives, and should consider cutting some.

Use a variety in both your nouns and adjectives so readers don’t read any combination of letters too often unless you are purposely trying to create a particular effect.

 

Progressive Verbs

The progressive verb form (in past, present, and future tenses) uses present participles, which are verbs that end in –ing. The progressive is the verb form we use to show current ongoing action or action that hasn’t been completed or action that is not necessarily ongoing at the moment we read about it but ongoing in the sense that it happens regularly. All of this is true of the progressive even if that action was ongoing in the past or will be ongoing in the future. We also use the progressive to show repetitive actions and as a way to show temporary actions in contrast to permanent actions. A form of “to be” is paired with another verb in its –ing form to complete the verb and to indicate which tense is being used.

Examples (I promise I won’t be testing you on these)

Leroy checks out the magazines in the office while he’s waiting for the doctor. (present progressive)

Leroy has been waiting for two hours. (present perfect progressive)

Vicky was flipping through TV channels when Jade came into the room. (past progressive)

Vicky had been flipping through channels for the past twenty minutes. (past perfect progressive)

The snow will be falling soon. (future progressive)

The snow will have been falling for hours before you get there. (future perfect progressive)

Mama was once again showing off her collection of porcelain angels. (repetitive action, past progressive)

Ellie usually cooks her own meals, but she is eating out tonight. (temporary action contrasted with permanent action, present progressive)

Tom complained that his youngest daughter was dreaming her life away. (regular ongoing action, past progressive)

It’s likely that all these forms are familiar to you. You probably use them instinctively, not giving any thought to the way they differ from either the simple past or simple present. And that’s likely a good thing. You wouldn’t want to have to second guess every verb tense or form.

The biggest problem with the progressive in manuscripts that I see is that it’s used too often, especially when the simple present or simple past should be used instead.

Sometimes deciding which form to use is difficult, but save the progressive for ongoing action that actually needs to be described as ongoing (or for one of the other reasons I mentioned). And even then use variety even if you’re pointing out several ongoing actions.

For that variety, use verbs that hint at or blatantly show ongoing action without having to resort to the progressive. Or reword sentences to avoid the need for the progressive.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the progressive when it’s needed, because you will need it. But don’t resort to the progressive when the simple past or present would be more effective or accurate or if you’ve already used the progressive many times in the same section of text.

An example—

The boy was waving as I was driving up. I was thinking about the argument John and I were having and not looking where I was going. By the time I was slowing down, the boy was looking a bit green, was swaying on his feet.

One option for reducing use of the progressive—

The boy was waving as I approached. I was rehearsing my response to John’s last volley in our argument and didn’t realize the boy couldn’t move out of the way. By the time I slowed, he looked a bit green and was swaying on his feet.

A second option—

A boy waved frantically as I drove toward the parking spot. I was thinking about the argument with John, not really paying attention, but then I realized the boy was stuck. I slammed on the brakes. The car stopped two feet away from the boy, close enough for me to note his green face and trembling body.

From nine to three to just two uses of the progressive is a big change. And yet the meaning is still there. While these versions may not say exactly the same thing, they do show you that there are options. The progressive doesn’t need to be used for every verb in a paragraph.

And one plus with cutting uses of the progressive is the reduction in helping verbs. Was is used seven times in that first example. That’s 7 out of 46 words.

Again, don’t take this advice as a prohibition of the progressive form. But let it help you make decisions that contribute to compelling fiction. We need the progressive, but we don’t need to overwhelm with it.

 

Gerunds

Gerunds are –ing verbs functioning as nouns. They can operate as subjects or objects. A gerund can stand by itself or it can be part of a gerund phrase.

Washing dishes is universally hated in my family.

Snorkeling was his favorite pastime.

Forgiving others wasn’t a skill she’d mastered.

Walter’s most accomplished skill is batting.

Some people, even those giving writing advice, confuse gerunds with the present participle, the verb form that ends in –ing that we saw in the progressive verb forms. But gerunds function as nouns. They may look like present participles (the words are the same), but their purposes are different.

Gerunds can begin sentences, just as other nouns and subjects do, but you wouldn’t want to begin every sentence with a gerund. You also wouldn’t want to rotate between gerunds and present participles to begin sentence after sentence. For one thing, that –ing would get annoying. For a second problem, readers might have trouble moving between a noun ending in –ing and a verb (present participle) ending in –ing, especially if the pattern continues for a number of sentences. You don’t want to confuse readers, not when simple changes can prevent that confusion.

As a matter of fact, you may be beginning to wonder why there aren’t more cautions against using too many –ing words. We’ve got nouns, adjectives, verbs, and even verbs masquerading as nouns—isn’t it likely that writers would inadvertently use too many –ing words in a way that could confuse readers?

Yes, that could happen. And if this is the case with a sentence or paragraph in your writing, you’ll want to make changes, if only to give your readers variety in the visuals and sounds.

On the other hand, readers might have no trouble understanding your meaning if you use a high number of –ing words in a single paragraph, but the visual alone—or the sounds of –ing repeated again and again—might annoy readers or give them a kind of reading fatigue.

Variety in word choice—including variations in first or final letters, number of letters, number of syllables, and sound—is good for all the words in your stories, and not only for whole words, but for their components.

Choose words for their meaning, yes. But choose them as well for sound, variety, fit, and impact. Use words that won’t confuse readers (unless that’s intentional), but at the same time create powerful images and stirring emotions.

An Exaggerated Example of Too Many –ings

While wrapping a soothing sling around the fledgling’s broken wing, Selma was humming, dreaming of her charming Arthur. Yet troubling thoughts about his depressing friend Billy kept intruding, interrupting her very entertaining daydreams. The thing was, there was something intriguing regarding Billy. And Selma’s best friend was convincing in her untiring promoting—no, her overwhelming and inspiring selling—of him as the next king. Needing to sing her own princeling’s praises, Selma started planning, knowing that anything she tried would need to be convincing, entertaining, and overwhelming. Giving her man a happy ending would be challenging but ultimately gratifying since that had been the sole reason for her being made into a living being back in the beginning.

While only a couple of the –ing words in this example rhyme, the visual repetition and sheer number of –ing words truly annoy.

Some of the –ing repetition isn’t too bad, especially because the stress falls on different words in different ways. But there’s certainly no reason to repeat the same word ending when there are so many other words to choose from.

If you’ve got paragraphs or long stretches of text with similar wording, make some changes.

Tip: To see how many times you use the -ing ending in a manuscript, do a global search for ing. (In MS Word, use Ctrl-F.) All words containing the three letters in a row will be highlighted. Keep in mind that this will also show words such as lingered and surprisingly. To include only words ending in –ing, search for the three letters followed by a blank space, a comma, and a period.

Don’t be alarmed if you see more than a handful on one page. Do take a closer look if you see more than a handful in a single paragraph.

Our example with -ing words highlighted—

While wrapping a soothing sling around the fledgling’s broken wing, Selma was humming, dreaming of her charming Arthur. Yet troubling thoughts about his depressing friend Billy kept intruding, interrupting her very entertaining daydreams. The thing was, there was something intriguing regarding Billy. And Selma’s best friend was convincing in her untiring promoting—no, her overwhelming and inspiring sellingof him as the next king. Needing to sing her own princeling’s praises, Selma started planning, knowing that anything she tried would need to be convincing, entertaining, and overwhelming. Giving her man a happy ending would be challenging but ultimately gratifying since that had been the sole reason for her being made into a living being back in the beginning.

(Forty-one out of 118 words, for those who are interested.)

 

Present Participle

As I already mentioned, the present participle is the verb form that uses –ing. It’s the same form that’s used in progressive verbs, but no helping verb is required for a participial phrase (a phrase that begins with a past or present participle). You can string participles and participial phrases together, just as you can do with other verb forms.

Pondering, Jake compared the two teams’ stats.

Hoping for a reprieve, Mary prepared her defense.

Wallace, knowing he’d been caught out, confessed to his brother.

Whistling, clapping his hands, and marching in place, Leonard tried to keep warm.

The present participle is versatile, but this is typically the –ing form writers are warned against. One major reason? Its overuse.

The caution against overuse of participles (past or present) is a valid one. This form stands out and the effect is cumulative; the more it’s used, the more readers notice. This is especially true if participles begin sentences back to back to back. Readers may notice the visual effect of sentences beginning the same way, or they may notice the sound and rhythm created by the repetition.

The simple fix for overuse is variety in sentence construction.

An example—

Walking to Shirley’s Deli, Dalton and Randy talked about their plans. Hoping to convince Randy to let Tom join them, Dalton praised Tom’s scholastic accomplishments. Needing an answer now, Dalton stopped before they entered the deli. Relieved when Randy smiled, Dalton knew he’d been convincing.

The rhythm and pattern of these sentences is more than annoying, even with a past participle rather than a present one starting the fourth sentence. But simple changes can do away with the relentless rhythm without changing the meaning.

One possible fix—

Dalton and Randy talked about their plans as they walked to Shirley’s Deli. Hoping to convince Randy to let Tom join them, Dalton praised Tom’s scholastic accomplishments. When they got to Shirley’s, he reached out to open the door, but since he needed Randy’s answer before they went inside, he looked over his shoulder and eyed his partner. Randy nodded, and that easily, Tom was in.

Beyond overuse, the present participle can also cause other problems. (The past participle can create the same kinds of problems.)

>Impossible to Perform Concurrent Actions

Participles can be used to create concurrent actions that are physically impossible to perform, something you don’t want to have happen.

Present participles are used alone or in participial phrases to link to other actions in the same sentence, allowing us to imply or state that the actions are simultaneous. The problems kick in when the two (or more) actions cannot actually occur at the same time. And discriminating readers will know when they can’t. They’ll notice and maybe overlook the problem, or they may start talking to the writer or the character, saying, you can’t do those actions at the same time.

Smiling, she opened the gift.

This works because we can smile and open presents at the same time.

Whistling, she recited the alphabet. X

This doesn’t work, because we can’t speak and whistle at the same time.

Running up the stairs, she peered quickly into every bedroom. X

This one doesn’t work either. Running up the stairs and peering into rooms are consecutive or sequential actions, not simultaneous ones. Unless, of course, the rooms are arranged along the stairs themselves and not off a hallway that begins at the top of the staircase.

I see this problem a lot. Actually, concerning sentence-level issues, this is probably the top problem I come across. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use participles and participial phrases, only that you need to correct for impossible-to-perform concurrent actions.

Ferreting out this error may be difficult at first, but if you actually read sentences individually, not only feel or hear them in a general sense, you can find and eliminate this problem.

She ran up the stairs and then quickly peered into every bedroom.

After running up the stairs, she peered into every bedroom.

She peered into every bedroom after running breathlessly up the stairs.

Before checking out the bedrooms, she had to race up the unfinished staircase.

>Participial Phrases and Dangling Modifiers

Participial phrases (phrases that start with participles) can be moved to different locations in a sentence, so that helps with variety when you’ve used participial phrases to start several sentences in a row. Yet it’s when they’re used at the beginning of a sentence that they typically create an additional problem—they can lead to dangling modifiers.

The participial phrase doesn’t have to come first in order to create a dangling modifier, but that’s usually their position when the problem comes up.

Let’s look at a few problem sentences and then we’ll talk about what dangling modifiers are and why they’re a problem. These are all incorrect.

Hoping for a home run, the bat smacked against the ball when he swung. X

Having expended a lot of effort on finishing the painting, it surprised Joanna that she couldn’t get it done. X

Pulling the sled, the load seemed extra heavy. X

Knowing he was late, Bill’s feet still didn’t want to move any faster. X

Wanting to know which college I’d chosen, I had to tell Dad I was going to Grandpa’s alma mater. X

The problem with each of these sentences is that the intended subject, the one performing the action of the participial phrase, is either not named at all or is not named as the one performing the action.

In these examples, the subject of the sentences should be the noun that follows the comma, and that noun should not only follow the comma, but be the first word after the comma. When the subject isn’t named or is in the wrong place, the wrong person or thing ends up as the subject performing the action.

In the first sentence I’ve said that the bat was hoping to make a home run when it’s obvious that I should have said he was hoping to make a home run.

In the second sentence, it didn’t expend energy finishing the painting, Joanna did.

In the third sentence, I’ve said that the load is pulling the sled. I didn’t even include a person (or animal) in the sentence to do the pulling.

In the fourth example, the sentence says that Bill’s feet and not Bill himself knew he was late.

In the final sentence, Dad should have been the one who wanted to know which college I’d chosen.

Dangling modifiers are quite often a problem with participial phrases, but the fixes are easy. And there are always multiple options. Here are a few—

Hoping for a home run, Jonesy smacked the bat against the ball when he swung.

Hoping for a home run, he swung the bat, pounding a satisfying crack against the ball.

Jonesy smacked the ball, hoping for a home run.

Having expended a lot of effort on finishing the painting, Joanna was surprised that she couldn’t get it done.

Joanna was surprised she couldn’t finish the painting, even after spending extra time on it.

Joanna, even after spending extra time on the painting, was surprised she couldn’t finish it.

Wanting to know which college I’d chosen, Dad finally asked if I was going to Grandpa’s alma mater.

I had to tell Dad I was going to Grandpa’s alma mater when he asked which college I’d chosen.

The fix isn’t to eliminate all participial phrases so that you don’t create dangling modifiers, but to understand exactly what each sentence says and correct those that don’t make sense or don’t say what they need to say.

The point here is to be aware of the potential problems so you can head them off. And to understand that sometimes we only catch this kind of error when we’re editing. Don’t worry about dangling modifiers as you create; change them when you edit and rewrite.

An extra tip? Edit from hard copy; dangling modifiers may be easier to spot on a printed page. And if you’re prone to a particular error, check every sentence that might be a source of such errors. Start with sentences that begin with participles and participial phrases.

Never think that you can’t use participles. Just stay on top of unintended consequences.

>Annoyance Factor

Reading several sentences in a row with participial phrases can annoy readers. This is especially true if the participial phrases keep to the same pattern in each sentence. The rhythm is unusual enough that the pattern gets noticed quickly. You already know what I’m going to say about that—you don’t want readers noticing the foundations and mechanics of story. You want them lost to the fiction.

So make sure you don’t string together a bunch of sentences beginning with participial phrases.

A very little of this particular sentence construction goes a very long way. My advice? Use this sentence construction sparingly.

>Too Many Actions

One additional problem with sentences that use participles and participial phrases is that they may be trying too hard to do too much, combining too many actions into a single sentence or a group of sentences.

Characters are not always doing two or three things at once. They shouldn’t always be doing two or three actions in the same sentence. Allow readers to sometimes see only a single action. (This is also good advice if you combine actions with and again and again and again. Sally doesn’t always have to be engaged in multiple actions in the same sentence.)

If your character is racing up the stairs, consider leaving it at that. And if a character is counting the money from his last heist, he doesn’t also need to be planning his next move, kicking the cat under the table, and listening to the ball scores on the radio.

A couple of exaggerated examples featuring present participles and participial phrases (and a few progressive verbs)  paired with verbs in the simple past—

Listening intently, Marcus studied his wife. Janie, waving her hands, bopping from foot to foot, told him about her day. Smiling at her enthusiasm, he nodded. Knowing he was humoring her, she stuck out her tongue.

Now chuckling out loud, he threw her over his shoulder and went running toward the pool.

——–

Counting out the take and divvying it up, Carter chuckled. Grinning and sweating and generally being a nuisance, Lanky Louie jumped around the room, kicking up old newspapers, disturbing the dust, and making everyone else cough.

How about these instead?

Marcus studied his wife. Janie waved her hands, and bopping from foot to foot, she told him about her day. He smiled at her enthusiasm, and she stuck her tongue out at him, knowing he was humoring her.

He threw her over his shoulder and ran toward the pool.

——–

Carter chuckled as he counted the take and divvied it up. Since he was distracted, a grinning Lanky Louie bounced around the room, kicking up old newspapers, disturbing the dust, and making everyone else cough. (Yeah, sometimes multiple participles work together well.)

>Absolute Phrases

Absolute phrases are a marvelous way to make use of participles, although an absolute phrase doesn’t have to contain a participle. At their most basic, absolute phrases are simply modifiers, specifically sentence (independent clause) modifiers. And they often create a poetic or lyrical feel. But because their use is fairly uncommon and because they create a unique rhythm, overuse can bother the reader. Also, it’s quite easy for writers to choose the wrong words for absolute phrases, making them nonsensical.

One use of an absolute phrase is to expand or narrow the focus of a sentence. Such absolute phrases are often introduced by the word with, with with written or implied.

[With] The rain falling heavily, the event was a total washout.

[With] Piano and strings playing in the background, she danced with her imaginary date.

Her mind racing in a million directions, Jade tore through her files, looking for the images she needed.

Jade, her mind racing in a million directions, tore through her files looking for the images she needed.

Jade tore through her files, her mind racing in a million directions.

While versatile—absolute phrases can be moved around in a sentence—they can easily produce an unpleasant rhythm when used too close together. Used too often, and not just back to back, the absolute phrase can create an unpleasant pattern. Even these three sentences together would annoy—

The rain falling heavily, the event was a total washout. Piano and strings playing in the background, she danced with her imaginary date. Her mind racing in a million directions, Jade pondered what had reduced her to such behavior.

At times, boldly declaring a thing without modification (remember that absolute phrases are actually modifiers), creates a stronger or more compelling impact. Absolute phrases can make for creative or poetic phrases, but sometimes you just gotta say it plainly.

The event was a washout. Jade turned the music down and danced with her imaginary date, pondering the failures that had reduced her to such behavior.

The second problem with absolute phrases, that of creating nonsensical sentences, could produce something like these awkward and confusing beauties—

Bertie and Luke, sun shining weakly, finished their breakfasts.

Zeke, elephants running along the road, washed his hands.

Lisa sneezed, the heavens opening up and rain pouring down.

Bombs bursting in air, the boys played marbles.

Children starving around the world, Marky read the newspaper.

Are you scratching your head? Yes, some of these are truly bad. The absolute phrases don’t seem to have much of a relationship to the rest of the sentences. The underlying format is correct for an absolute phrase—it’s the words that aren’t quite right. But depending on the surrounding sentences, some of these could work as written, or at least pretty close to it. A tweak or two is all most need to create a serviceable absolute phrase.

Bertie and Luke, sun shining weakly overhead, finished their breakfasts on the back patio.

Zeke, elephants running along the road beside him, washed his hands in the murky river.

Lisa, the heavens opening up and rain pouring down over her, sneezed and sneezed. (Yeah, a bit of a stretch on this one. I suggest starting over.)

Bombs bursting in air less than a mile away, the boys nevertheless played marbles with abandon.

Children starving around the world, Marky read the newspaper. (Nope, this one simply makes no sense. Starving children have nothing to do with Marky reading the paper.)

Absolute phrases have other setups and purposes. For more on absolute phrases, read Should I Use Absolute Phrases.

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We’ve taken an in-depth look at different types of words that end in –ing. It’s quite obvious that they serve a wide variety of purposes and that we need them, in all their variety, for our writing projects.

But we’ve also seen how their misuse or overuse can cause problems, problems that no doubt led to the confusing prohibitions concerning their use.

But now you can face advice about –ing words armed with knowledge.

Yes, it’s okay to use words ending in –ing.

Yes, it’s okay to begin sentences with words, even participles, ending in –ing.

Yes, words that end in –ing can be overused and can create a rash of problems for the writer.

Don’t follow advice that says you should cut all –ing words from your writing; such advice goes too far without explaining enough. But do follow advice that urges caution and understanding of –ing words. Explore participles and participial phrases and the progressive tense. Rather than cut yourself off from using all the words and formats available to writers, learn how to use them in ways that enhance your fiction.

And for writing advice in general, check the reasoning behind the advice—from multiple sources—to get the true picture, and only then make your decision about whether or not the advice applies to your circumstances and needs. You don’t want to ignore advice that might have a kernel of good guidance at its core. But you also don’t want to apply advice that’s not intended for your situation.

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22 Responses to “Writing Advice—What About -ing Words (Part Four)”

  1. Penny says:

    This has been a great series to follow. Hope this trick helps some people.

    “To include only words ending in –ing, search for the three letters followed by a blank space, a comma, and a period.”

    To include only words ending in –ing, check the box next to Suffix Only. Click More in the bottom left corner of the search flyout, and it’ll be there. Works for an -ly search too. All Word Forms is an option handy for spotting all forms of ‘was’. Other cool tools reside there as well.

  2. Ty says:

    So, this always confuses me during rewrites. I might write this:

    “OK.” She continued to stand next to Jake, watching him hunt-n-peck his way through the invoice. “Daddy?” Robyn said.

    And I see in some authors will write it this way:

    “OK.” She continued to stand next to Jake, watched him hunt-n-peck his way through the invoice. “Daddy?” Robyn said.

    Is this a stylistic choice? Dare I ask which is better? Personally, I find the second version reads stilted, but it works, gets around another “ing,” and I get used to it.

    • PJ says:

      Since she “continued to stand,” it’s safe to assume her position is already established and the phrase is repetition. Also, placement of the present participle phrase, “watching him…” implies Jake is watching–dangling modifier. INGs are discouraged so often because they come with or indicate other problems. Clarity and simplicity mean better reader comprehension and faster processing of the story imagery. (“Okay.” Robyn watched him hunt and peck through the invoice.) Same image, fewer words, less confusion over who’s watching.

      • PJ, using fewer words is good for so many reasons, reducing confusion and changing up the rhythm or pattern only two of them. But sometimes a longer sentence works for style or rhythm. But I’m definitely with you on cutting the words when possible.

        I don’t see the dangling modifier you mentioned. The meaning seems clear, that “she” is doing the watching. Any of these would work (I changed the wording slightly for clarity)—

        Robyn stood close to Jake, watching him hunt and peck his way through the invoice.

        Watching him hunt and peck his way through the invoice, Robyn stood close to Jake.

        Robyn, watching Jake hunt and peck his way through the invoice, stood close to him.

        • PJ says:

          Ii suppose it’s more of a misplaced modifier than a dangler. Lazy habit I’ve developed lumping them all in the DM catchphrase. For clarity, modifying phrases should go next to the noun they modify. At first sight, ‘…Jake, watching…’ seems she is standing next to Jake, who is watching. Of course, it’s clear which noun is watching and which is being watched when ‘him’ appears (as long as no other men are present), but for a millisecond it seems Jake is watching, and then perception has to adjust when ‘him-Jake’ turns out to be the one watched. It’s a subtle implication, but can make the intent and action foggy, especially if it happens often. It’s one of the ways present participles can eat at a writer’s clarity.

    • Ty, you can use either. And yes, the second is a style choice. But as you said, the second version can feel stilted. The format in the second is often used for emphasis or for parentheticals. Consider She wanted to go after him, needed to go after him, before she could think about giving up. OR She wanted, needed, to go after him.

      Imagine your example this way—She continued to stand next to Jake, watched him hunt-n-peck his way through the invoice, until she gathered the courage to speak.. The parenthetical, the aside, is clear in this version. You can see how any of these examples would work with dashes in place of the commas. Your version just doesn’t have the dependent clause at the end that my examples have.

      Feel free to use your second version, but I suggest that you don’t use it often; the effect of its use is cumulative. But do use it for effect when you have the need.

      • Ty says:

        Excellent context. Thank you. The other option I didn’t list in my post would be to write it as:

        She continued to stand next to Jake and watched him hunt-n-peck his way through the invoice.

        This also gets around the use of “ing.”

        I also agree the whole sentence is not polished yet. I used it to illustrate my initial question.

        Thanks for the follow up

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Thank-you for the informative article with many examples. It was very helpful.
    Some people in my writing group seem to think that any use of progressive verbs is wrong. It made me wonder.
    But sometimes you want to show an action was ongoing or happening simultaneously with another action. Thanks for showing when its OK to do it.

    • My pleasure, Bob. The progressive is useful and sometimes necessary.

      Sometimes warnings about misuse accidentally turn to prohibitions against any use, which means writers should be careful about any advice that includes the word never. We can almost always make any option work.

  4. Arif says:

    I thought your King Charming was awesome!

    I have really enjoyed my time on this web site, thanks again for all the hard work!

  5. Chan says:

    Hi,

    Great work. I have a question. Please read the sentence below.

    Just as I was entering the room, the family was going to a party.

    Should ‘was going’ be changed to ‘went’ ?

    Thanks

  6. Excellent, detailed discussion. In an online group I’m currently enrolled in, some critiques are terrified of the progressive tenses, and one critiquer believes that using a present-participle phrase as a modifier constitutes “mixing tenses” and therefore incorrect. You are on point that glomming onto such rigid rules limits writers’ options for rhythm and meaning.
    I also love your discussion of dangling modifiers. i see so many of these, and otherwise competent writers seem oblivious to them. Your examples precisely mirror what I see.
    I think writers need to READ, widely, and not just the latest free examples of their favorite genre, to see how good writers make use of many available strategies and apply rules thoughtfully rather than blindly.

  7. Printed this down as a new resource. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Lily Guptil says:

    I am writing an essay for an English class, and I’m really stuck in this one sentence:

    At the mentioning of children, Obama invokes compassion, love, and sentiment in the audience.

    or

    At the mention of children, Obama invokes compassion, love, and sentiment in the audience.

    I would really appreciate it if you got back to me. Thanks.

  9. Lily Guptil says:

    I am writing an essay for an English class, and I’m really stuck in this one sentence:

    At the mentioning of children, Obama invokes compassion, love, and sentiment in the audience.

    or

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  3. […] To: Writing Advice—What About -ing Words, by Beth Hill – “Nouns such as ring, bling, sibling, ending, and so forth are not […]

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