Wednesday, March 11, 2009


If you're perplexed about gerunds, here's a quick breakdown:
  1. A gerund is a verbal ending in -ing that is used as a noun.
  2. A gerund phrase consists of a gerund plus modifier(s), object(s), and/or complement(s).
  3. Gerunds and gerund phrases virtually never require punctuation.


I'm writing my way to old age. (gerund acts as the verb because it's the action)
I plan to spend the day writing. (gerund is the direct object receiving the action)
They call her the writing lady. (gerund acts as the adjective and describes the object)

Here the same statements but without the gerunds:

I plan to write my way to old age.
I have to write today.
Apparently, all she does is write.

The reason I'm mentioning gerunds is because they seem to have lost favour with many editors. Why that is, I don't know. Unless it's because there are cases where a gerund is less effective than a more active verb and it seems easier to banish all gerunds.

But is it about clarity or fabs? If you rewrite the sentence, removing the gerund, is the meaning clearer? Has the sentence more impact? Is it easier to visualize the action? Or are you satisifying the recent crave?

Would removing the gerunds below, make the statements more effective?

1. And the truly galling thing, he hadn't for one moment suspected her.
2. Her instincts were unerring.
3. During the night, rain destroyed the evidence.

If done right, anything can work. As long as you don't eliminate that special voice that is yours alone.

Below, would removing the gerund make the statements less complicated?

1. The day was taking forever to end, plunging him deeper and deeper into despair.
2. Bruised, bleeding and in pain, she found stabbing the knife deep into his chest ... satisfying.
3. Getting up off the couch, walking to the table proved difficult.

It's all about choices. And sadly, that the last word generally sides with your editor. However, there will always be those who can take your work and improve upon it, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't write naturally. There will always be those who say there are no rules. I'm of the mind that following the no rules rule makes sense if you first learn the mechanics of writing. And that happens by the three power moves: reading, studying and writing. I'm still shaking my head over those who profess that they never anything but their own work.

This is not to say that all gerunds are valuable. There are times when cutting the gerund makes sense. The trick is to know the difference.

If you not familiar with nouns, objects or adjectives, my apologies; none of the above will much sense.


  1. I always thought that a gerund was a male gerbil. Hmmmm....

    The thing that bothers me most is a writer's heavy use of similes. I think of them as short cuts in description. In some cases, Okay, if it's a pace issue, sneak one in here & there. I recently read a not so great novel where I counted 12 similes within 3 pages.

    In the meantime, I'll keep an eye out for gerbils... or whatever you called 'em.

  2. lol, okay you watch out for them gerbils. Good point about the similes. I should do a post on those one day.

    Hey Dave! Stay safe.

  3. Gerbils can be as pesky as gerunds, and smiles are preferred over similes, unless the similes make you smile. (Sorry, couldn't resist it.)

    My nemesis is the adverb... getting rid of the excessive "ly" words really cuts into my novel's word count!

    The bottom line is, (oops, now that's a bad cliche... I have trouble with those, too) rules provide a quality baseline for writers, but they aren't inviolable. While I don't hold with the "rules are meant to be broken" argument, there are appropriate times to disregard them.

  4. See, isn't writing fun! Where else can you run the gamut of emotions and not hurt yourself by pinching a muscle? I'm not counting your brain.

  5. Hey great post! I need to work on this!

  6. I tried to comment on this post this morning and it wouldn't let me---are you mad? ha ha
    This is a great blog----I REALLY enjoyed it!

  7. Thanks so much, Katt. I forget I know this stuff, which means sometimes I take it for granted that everyone else does too. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

  8. You made me think. That's a good thing----sometimes I tend to get "sloppy" or lazy in my writing---thanks for the reminder!

  9. Can you tell I'm in WIP-mode? haha. I'd actually forgotten how terrific it is to be writing something new.

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