Gerunds & Adverbial Phrases Equal Soft Writing

Wielding the lead pipe, Miss Scarlet bashed in Colonel Mustard’s head.

One way to weaken your writing is to use gerunds in excess. Gerunds are formed by adding ing to the root verb.  A gerund is a present participle.  Participle phrases are made up of a participle plus any closely associated word or words.  It can be used either as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun or as an adverb to modify the predicate, or any adverb or adjective in the predicate.

If your head is not spinning and you are still with me, I bring up gerunds and participle phrases because they can be overused.  The other night in our writing group one writer had 39 gerunds in the four page excerpt from his novel read that night.

A participle phrase, like the one above describing Miss Scarlet’s action is colorful but weakens the sentence.  What do all writers know about using adverbs?  Change the sentence.  Use an active and more precise verb.  Get that story moving.

Miss Scarlet grabbed the lead pipe.  She struck Colonel Mustard in the head.  The side of his face caved in…

Just like the use of adverbs, there is nothing inherently wrong with using participle phrases in your grammatical construction.  However, in the same way you check for adverbs you need to check for gerunds and participle phrases because they weaken your language.

Your reader may not notice the grammar—gerund, participle phrase, adverbial phrase, etc.—but he will feel the soft writing, start to skip ahead, nod off, or, worse yet, close the book.

Keep your writing strong.  Use active verbs.

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