Write Better Sentences, Part 1

It’s a tedious topic among writers: Is it all right to begin a sentence with an ING word?teacher.books.clip

Yes’s and No’s abound. Here’s my take. You may find some of it a little different.

First, to avoid being a “dangling participle,” an ING word that starts a sentence should have, immediately after the comma, a noun or pronoun that’s the doer of its action. Like this: Shining through the clouds, the sun warmed the deck. The sentence is grammatically correct because the sun is the doer of the participle’s action (shining). I consider it a poor sentence, though, for another reason.

This one is worse: Warming the deck, the sun shone through the clouds. Why worse? Like the other, it’s grammatically correct. I think it’s worse because the idea that appears to be less important (shone) is given the stronger position, the verb.

That brings me to my  nitpick with participle phrases whether placed at the beginning of a sentence or following the words they modify. When we make a verb into a participle (verb form) it loses some of its strength. Therefore, we should not write the more important idea as a participle. Warming the deck (with emphasis going to sun shone down) is not as strong as The sun warmed the deck. (I sense a few readers clicking away to a more interesting topic. Never mind. This is for the few who need to care about such nuances.) A better sentence altogether, in my opinion, would be The sun warmed the deck. (We assume it’s shining).

Here’s another kind of participle problem: Running down the street, the girl stopped at the curb. What’s wrong with this one? To me it feels illogical. Can the girl run and stop at the same time? I think the  action of the introductory participle phrase should happen at the same time as the action of the main verb.

We’ve been taught to use participle phrases for sentence variety, so we use them to death. I suggest that writers (1) skim over their copy to see how many paragraphs they’ve started with phrases, and (2) greatly curtail the use of participles unless they’re the best choice for the sentence and the idea. I’ll watch for good examples and present my findings in Part 2. (maybe)

Agree? Disagree? Join in. Maybe I’ll learn something and get help for Part 2.

Thanks!

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6 Comments

Filed under Editing, ing words, participle phrases, phrases at the beginning of sentences, Writing, writing strong sentences

6 responses to “Write Better Sentences, Part 1

  1. Agree. We must take pride in trying our best to write well, even though some writers ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/10049454/Dont-make-fun-of-renowned-Dan-Brown.html ) are getting rich by writing not-so-well. Which is swell. Oh, hell. Does that mean the rest of us are damned if we do, damned if we don’t write well? Doesn’t matter.

    • High concept wins the pocketbook prize over substantial writing, every time. I wouldn’t mind being in-between somewhere–not the most literary, but not 50 shades of Dan Brown. 😦

  2. Reading what you wrote, I found a lot to think about 😉 Being encouraged to have sentence variety, most certainly leads to this type of writing. Trying not to plagiarize, is another way people get caught up in tangled sentences. Writing takes practice and most people, myself including, don’t practice enough! Enjoying your writing and looking forward to Part 2!

  3. Reading what you wrote, I found a lot to think about Being encouraged to have sentence variety, most certainly leads to this type of writing. Trying not to plagiarize, is another way people get caught up in tangled sentences. Writing takes practice and most people, myself including, don’t practice enough! Enjoying your writing and looking forward to Part 2!

    • Excellent comeback, medgreen. I nearly missed the joke, but now am tempted to diagram your reply!

      • I know. Pretty lame joke. But seriously, I haven’t thought about good sentence structure for years, and could really use some practice. You should send me to the board to diagram them myself!

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