Tag Archives: verbs

What is a gerund, anyway?

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on March 17, 2010

Last week we talked about participles, which are verbs that work like adjectives. Gerunds are also based on verbs, but they work like nouns.

Gerunds have only one form, and it looks exactly like the present participle — ending in “-ing.” But you can tell a gerund is a gerund because it functions as a noun in the sentence. This means gerunds can be subjects or objects:
Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. (subject)
Everton has finally mastered braising. (direct object)
Lucinda knows everything about baking. (object of a preposition)

sushiA gerund can have adjectives of its own:
Uniform slicing and dicing makes a successful stir-fry.

Gerunds can also be part of a whole phrase:
Properly preparing an assortment of sushi can be time-consuming.
Some cookbooks have step-by-step photos for creating fancy desserts.

Fused participles
Gerunds don’t usually wind up in “dangling” situations as participles do, but there is one little picky problem area that occasionally arises.

There are sentences that work like this:
Otto’s overseasoning of the sauce ruined the whole dish.
The diners love to watch the chef’s grilling their food right at their table.

Generally, these constructions use a possessive in front of the gerund, called “genitive with gerund.” But in some cases, called “fused participles,” you’ll see a non-possessive form — either a noun or an objective case pronoun — instead of a possessive. And then the gerund turns back into a participle, modifying the noun:
The diners love to watch the chef grilling their food right at their table.

In the past, some usage experts said sentences like the example above are always wrong, because there’s the tiniest possibility it could be unclear.

Nowadays, we know that sometimes it’s better to use the possessive; sometimes it’s better, or at least less awkward, to use a non-possessive noun; and sometimes the context pretty much demands a non-possessive noun, as in this sentence:
The new cook was responsible for the pie bubbling over and burning.

This is really a picky point, though, and with gerunds, you don’t need to worry about errors on the scale of dangling participles.

What is a participle, anyway?

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on March 10, 2010

You may have heard of “dangling participles,” but knowing that you should avoid those doesn’t much help if you’re not sure what a participle is to begin with. So here’s a quick guide:
A participle is basically a verb that works as an adjective. In other words, it looks like a verb, but modifies a noun.

688484_baseballPresent participles end in “-ing”: a screaming line drive, a winning team

Past participles usually end in “-ed”: a dropped ball, a grilled hot dog
But participles for irregular verbs have other forms: The shortstop backed up the ball overthrown at third.

Participles can be part of a whole phrase: Butler, sliding into home face-first, got dirt all over his uniform.

They may occur with auxiliary verbs: Having smashed the ball over the left-field fence, Rodriguez hustled around the bases.

Dangling participles
Participles “dangle” when they are not next to the noun they are intended to modify. Sometimes the meaning of the sentence is clear anyway, but other times the sentence winds up a muddle:

Hurling strikes all night long, the leadoff batter in the eighth walked.
Here, it’s not the batter who was hurling strikes, it’s the pitcher. But the way this sentence is put together, the participial phrase is modifying “batter.”

Since joining the Royals as a rookie, they have turned their record around.
Here, we assume a player did the joining, not the team, but “they” is what’s being modified.

The way to avoid danglers is to make sure that whatever the participle refers to is the subject of the main clause. Usually this will be the first noun in the main clause.

Next up: What is a gerund, anyway?

In the mood for a subjunctive

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Jan. 9, 2010

Grammatically, the subjunctive is a verb mood, not a verb tense. Most sentences use the indicative mood; the subjunctive in English has fairly restricted uses. Often, subjunctive forms don’t look any different and mostly you’ll know which form to use because it “sounds right.” But there are a few places where people run into problems.

Here’s when to use the subjunctive:

1. In subordinate clauses for demands, suggestions and necessities. These are generally straightforward.
· The teacher suggested that Johnny pay more attention to his use of apostrophes.
· Oda Mae Brown asked that no one speak during the seance.
· It is crucial that everyone refrain from getting water near the witch.

2. In subordinate clauses for expressions of wishing, hoping, etc., where what you are wishing for probably isn’t so. This is the “Wish you were here” construction.
Warner Bros
· We wish they wouldn’t chew with their mouths open.
· She hoped that her brother knew better than to lick a frozen flagpole.
Continue reading In the mood for a subjunctive