A very small grammar rant: present participle phrases are NOT wrong.

The use of a present participle phrase at the beginning of a sentence is NOT bad grammar, or even bad writing.

Yes, a lot of people don’t know how to use them correctly.  The fact that someone else does it wrong is not a reason to say no one should do it at all.  (Blame the “rule” against present participle phrases on lazy teaching: it’s easier to say “Never do it” than it is to explain “This is how to do it right.”)

This is an example of a bad sentence containing a present participle phrase: Looking out the window, she turned back toward the door.  She turned back toward the door while she was looking out the window?  Seems highly improbably…

This is wrong, too: Looking out the window, a carriage pulled up to the manor house.

However, this is grammatically correct:  Looking out the window, Lucy saw a carriage pull up to the manor house.  No implausible simultaneity of actions, no bizarrely sentient conveyance that had somehow gotten indoors…

(Tune in next time to see Weaver lose his cool over the silly — and wrong — notion that all uses of to be verbs are passive…)

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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6 Responses to A very small grammar rant: present participle phrases are NOT wrong.

  1. There are too few parts of speech. We must fight to keep all of them. Take to the barricades. I favor semi-colons and adverbs!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’ve switched off listening to people handing out writing rules because most of them don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. (Not including you in that sentence, by the way.) Most of it is clickbait masquerading as help.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s a slippery slope: if writers won’t make the effort to use proper grammar, we can all eat Grandma. People are lazy, and spellcheckers are vindictive.

    It’s not that hard! They make it hard with their silly rules – and don’t go after the abominations such as ‘alright’ and ‘alot’ and other neologisms that never used to appear in newspapers and magazines, and now litter the internet.

    I think I’m showing my age. I KNOW I’m showing my crotchetiness.

    Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s because “alot” uses fewer Twitter characters than “a lot.” *shakes head*

    Like

    • Part of me understands that the sort of immediate slapdash communication which dominates nowadays is going to result in, eh… ‘alot’ of changes to the language we speak. The other part of me is too busy crying at how irredeemably ugly it all is.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Personally, I like present participle phrases. They help with sentence flow and with alternating sentence length. They’re also efficient and provide a way to reduce those dreaded “to be” verbs. I know they’re not in fashion, but the fantasy book I’m reading right now, by a highly popular author, is full of them. I’ve decided not to worry about them.

    Liked by 1 person

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