Stabbing zombies with pitchforks and culling -ing words

Gerunds – nouns that end in -ing are OK

When I taught English to kids in Korea in the early 2000s, my most advanced group of students moved onto the final English book in a series. They started learning grammar concepts I didn’t understand. How embarrassing!  

My Korean co-workers knew far more about English grammar than I did. And that makes sense. I didn’t really learn grammar until I started learning a foreign language. At first it was Italian in high school and then Korean in Korea. My students were far more advanced at English than I was at Korean.

So here I was, trying to sound intelligent to a group of 12-year-old girls about grammar concepts I had to Google before each class. One of the first concepts I Googled was ‘gerunds’. A gerund is a noun based on a verb. Like horseriding. Or computer training. 

When I talk about culling -ing words, it’s not the gerund -ing words I mean. You can hang onto these kinds of -ing words.

Adjectives that end in -ing are also OK

Using adjectives that end in -ing is also OK. Words like laughing or bewildering or stunning are all OK. These are not the -ing words to cull. 

So, I’ve covered what not to cull. What -ing words should we cull?  

Stabbing zombies with pitchforks - remove ING words to strengthen your writing
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Progressive verbs

The progressive form is a verb tense that shows an action happening now or action continuing to some point in time. Progressive verbs come in all tenses – past, present and future.

For example:

  • I am stabbing the zombie with a pitchfork.
    This is present progressive tense. It’s happening right now. You might also know this as present continuous tense.
  • I was stabbing the zombie with a pitchfork.
    This is past progressive tense. It happened in the past. It’s also known as past continuous tense.
  • I will be stabbing the zombie with a pitchfork.
  • This is the future progressive tense. It will happen in the future. It’s also known as future continuous tense.

What’s common between them all – other than having -ing endings on the action – they also need a helping (or ‘auxiliary’) verb to make sense. The helping verb is a version of the verb ‘to be’. 

  • I am stabbing…
  • I was stabbing…
  • I will be stabbing…

Of this list, past progressive tense is the most common form we use. I was writing… He was running… They were eating… While these sentences are grammatically correct, they are not as strong as they could be. If we remove the helping verb and turn them into the appropriate present, past or future tense, the sentence is much stronger. 

For example:

❌ I am stabbing a zombie with a pitchfork.

✔️ I stab a zombie with a pitchfork.

❌ I was stabbing a zombie with a pitchfork.

✔️ I stabbed a zombie with a pitchfork.

❌ I will be stabbing a zombie with a pitchfork.

✔️ I will stab a zombie with a pitchfork.

Note how much more direct, punchier and concise the second examples are. The progressive verb tense brings the reader out of the action. Regular tense puts them into the thick of it. 

You don’t need to cull all progressive -ing words, but be aware of them. If you want to make a direct impact with a message, avoid the progressive tense with its bloated helping verb.

Too many -ing words in a row. Argh!

Another thing to note: too many -ing words close together can turn a short sentence into very hard work for the reader.

For example: 

  • After finishing running exciting horseriding and trotting training, I took a refreshing shower.

My poor little brain hurts while deciphering that. Even though it’s grammatically correct, I’m struggling to read and comprehend it. 

Keep an eye out for pesky instances of -ing words and swap them out when appropriate to strengthen your writing and make it more direct and concise.

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    2 replies to "Stabbing zombies with pitchforks and culling -ing words"

    • Gladys Strickland

      What great information! Will definitely refer to it as I edit my book.

      Also, I learned more about English grammar when I studied Spanish in high school. I can relate to your experience in Korea!

      • Sandra

        That’s great! I’m glad you’ll be applying it while editing your book. It definitely makes your writing stronger.

        It always astounds me how grammar is so innate to native English speakers. My husband is Korean but cannot explain Korean grammar to me at all. ‘Just because’ is not a satisfactory response. Argh!

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