Why Are Ing Words Weak When You Write Fiction Or Nonfiction?
Is using ing words in writing weak? You are always using these words. But there are no rules to break when you use verb forms or words that end in ing.
The English language has only two participle forms, which are ed and ing. Because of this, you are going to use a lot of these words and phrases in your writing.
But when we use perfect and progressive tenses, or in some cases, the gerund form, the ing form of the verb can result in weak writing. Generally, we class simple past and simple present tense verbs as strong verbs.
The best advice for new writers is to try to replace overused weak ing words with better alternatives.
Why are ing verbs weak?
When we use present participles as a verb, you always need to add an extra auxiliary or helping verb. These include is, am, was, were, and been.
Look at these simple example sentences.
He was jumping up and down with excitement. (Weak)
He has been jumping up and down with excitement. (Weak)
He jumped up and down with excitement. (Strong)
In the last sentence, the active verb, jump, is the center of attention.
It is not diminished by one or two auxiliary verbs that separate the subject and verb. These extra words make the main verb weak.
We use present, past, and future progressive forms a lot. When we speak, we use these ing phrases and words with friends all the time.
But for strong writing, it is better to avoid weak verbs and re-write them, if possible, with a more direct and stronger verb.
David is working every day now.
David works every day now.
Susan was working out every morning.
Susan worked out every morning.
Roger will be starting his new job tomorrow.
Roger starts his new job tomorrow.
Mary has been sleeping for three hours.
Mary slept for three hours.
What about gerunds?
We can’t avoid using gerunds in English. It is a verbal noun form that we use a lot.
There are so many uses for the gerund, and in many cases, it is not always possible to replace them.
Gerunds always follow a preposition.
He said hello to everyone after entering the meeting.
They almost always follow any verb of preference.
She likes cooking. He hates washing up.
Then there are certain verbs or words that can only take the gerund form.
He denied stealing the money. So he considered pleading not guilty. But the police had enough proof, so he admitted taking the money.
In these cases, it is not possible to make any changes without a lot of re-writing.
But it is when the gerund is forming a noun phrase or a participial phrase that good editing can help.
I can clearly recall my English teacher in high school. She always put a big red cross with re-write this noted on my essay sentences that had a gerund subject.
Weak ing words as a subject
Let’s take a simple and quite typical example of using a weak gerund as the subject of a sentence.
As you can see, being is a vague word to use as a subject.
Being an author, Jim always enjoys time alone to think.
You can write this sentence in so many better and stronger ways.
The reason these sentences are better is that the verb directly follows the subject. It makes it clear that Jim is an author.
Jim is an author, so he always enjoys time alone to think.
Because Jim is an author, he always enjoys time alone to think.
Since Jim is an author, he always enjoys time alone to think.
These often create distance between the action and the subject.
Rushing to get out of the house in the morning, Mary forgot to take her phone and purse.
Here the real action verb is to rush. But because it is so far away from the subject, it becomes much weaker.
It is better to have the subject directly performing the action.
Mary rushed out of the house early in the morning and forgot to take her phone and purse.
Because Mary rushed out of the house early in the morning, she forgot to take her phone and purse.
Mary forgot to take her phone and purse because she rushed out of the house early in the morning.
When Mary rushed out of the house early in the morning, she forgot to take her phone and purse.
We also use the gerund as a noun for activities. In this form, there is often no viable replacement.
Think here about words like writing, shopping, diving, swimming, and skiing.
If you try to change these types of gerund words, you could find that your sentence sounds awkward or unnatural.
I went shopping on Saturday.
I shopped on Saturday.
Roger spent all weekend writing articles.
Roger wrote articles all weekend.
In these cases, it is better to stay with the sentence that reads more naturally.
Adjectives that use ing
In general, we use adjectives ending in ing when we describe an object in a sentence.
That looks like an interesting book.
But we use adjectives ending in ed when they are describing the subject.
David is interested in that book.
Because a lot of adjectives have no other form, it is impossible to avoid using them.
However, if you use a thesaurus, you can often find synonyms. To replace interesting, you might use impressive or enjoyable.
Are all ing words weak?
For the question, are ing words weak, there is no simple, straightforward, or easy answer.
Yes, some are weak, such as progressive verb forms, and you should replace or re-write them when it is possible.
But many gerunds and adjectives can’t be replaced.
The most important factor to consider is how often you employ ing words.
In any word processor, you can use the Find function to check on the frequency of an overused word or part of a word.
You can then look at each word or occurrence and decide if there is a better alternative.
Here is a screenshot of the first paragraph in this article using the Find function.
You can see how easy it is to check each highlighted word and consider a replacement to avoid ing words.
If you see that your frequency of use is very high, you probably need to do some editing.
In the example image above, I could make these two changes.
What is wrong with the use of ing words and verbs?
Because of this, you will use a lot of these words when you write.
You want to make your writing as clear and concise as possible.
When you use too many weak ing words, they tend to dilute your writing.
Are all ing words bad to use? No, they certainly are not. But you should be aware of how many you include in a piece of text.
If you are writing a blog post or article, it is usually a relaxed style, so progressive forms give an informal feel.
But in fiction writing, you want to be clear and concise in your storytelling. Action verbs are vital and should, for the most part, be strong verbs.
In the end, it is like when you add too much salt to the soup.
Don’t overdo it
Related reading: Nine Weak Words To Avoid In Writing
3 thoughts on “Why Are Ing Words Weak When You Write Fiction Or Nonfiction?”
There’s also the issue of an action beginning whilst another action is still in progress – e.g. Mary was rushing out the door when the phone rang. I cannot think of any other way of constructing that sentence without changing the meaning entirely, and surely meaning trumps ‘form’?
Thank you for a most helpful post.
However, I would take issue over one of your examples.
Mary has been sleeping for three hours.
In this case, she is still sleeping.
Mary slept for three hours
She is now awake again after her three hour nap.
I am afraid I’m guilty of using gerunds to begin sentences. I must look out for that. And also using Find to search for -ing words.
You’re right, Vivienne. When you have to re-write the present perfect, and especially the present perfect continuous, it takes more effort. The examples in this article are simplistic. But the intent was to show how strong verbs can help.
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