Wringing the Ings From Our Things

I know you’re getting sick of hearing how much I hate copyediting, but it’s only my work I hate copyediting. I truly get a thrill out of reading a soon-to-be-published book that one day thousands of people might love. In addition, I get to mark up the manuscript. My suggestions probably won’t make any difference to the success of the work, but they might help keep future readers anchored in the story. It seems that nowadays most readers are also writers, and while we may be a forgiving lot, inconsistencies, word echoes, and improper phraseology easily jerk us out of the fictive dream.

One of the most common problems I’m finding is wrongly used participial phrases that end in ing. According to The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, a participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

The example in the book is: Walking down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children. Who is walking? He is, of course, since he is the subject of the sentence, and the ing phrase always refers to the subject. If the woman is walking, you have to rephrase the sentence: He saw a woman, accompanied by two children, walking down the road. You, I’m sure, would never have to worry about who is walking because you’d never use such an ambiguous sentence in the first place!

The other examples of wrong phrases Strunk and White give are humorous and show why it’s important to follow the rule:

Being in dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house cheap.
Wondering irresolutely what to do next, the clock struck twelve.
As a mother of five, with another on the way, the ironing board was always up.

In case you don’t know how to rephrase the above sentences, here are my quick efforts:

Because of the dilapidated condition of the house, I was able to buy the place cheap.
As I wondered what to do next, the clock struck twelve.
A mother of five, with another on the way, I was never able to put the ironing board away.

Another ing problem comes from simultaneous actions, when an author has a character do something that’s physically impossible. For example: Pulling out of the driveway, he drove down the street. He cannot be pulling out of the driveway at the same time he’s driving down the street. He pulled out of the driveway, then drove down the street.

I know you know all this, but such sentence structures do slip into our writing. It’s up to us to wring them out of our work.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

6 Responses to “Wringing the Ings From Our Things”

  1. Renee Vincent Says:

    Thank you, Pat, for these examples. It does make you stop and think a moment, and like you said, jerks you out of the fictive dream. And I know that in my editing process, I was guilty of making some of these mistakes. In fact, I had gotten a good laugh out of some of the phrasing my editor caught. Thank goodness for editors!

  2. Sue O'Shields Says:

    Thanks, Pat! Nice to get a gentle reminder of these things!

  3. Steve Prosapio Says:

    Reading this article, my computer screen kept flashing. Wondering if I still need to read the contents, my dinner was ready…..

    I couldn’t resist.

  4. knightofswords Says:

    Another goof is a sentence like this: Julie sat in a chair wearing a dress.

    Was the chair wearing the dress? 🙂


  5. Laurie Foston Says:

    Being an author who has a habit of saying things with ings on at the beginnings and endings of sentences, I can appreciate this posting of your article.

  6. dellanioakes Says:

    I admit, I’m an “Ing” addict. They are a great way to break up the monotony of a sentence. One must be careful with the ‘ings’. They are handy-dandy words that spice up your writing. If used correctly, ‘Ings’ solve any number of sentence ‘ills’ (ie. boring phrases & clauses that need a little kick) They can indicate a sequence of events happening, if not quite simultaneously, at least in close succession.

    Then there are those other ‘Ings’ called gerunds. They are verbs that are acting as nouns. For example, “Writing is fun” or “I can’t read my own hand writing.”

    Not giving up my ‘Ings’!

Leave a Reply to knightofswords Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: