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Ing the Merciless: How to Avoid Using "Ing"


Marilynn Byerly

QUESTION: On a writer's list I'm on, someone said that "-ing" words are weak, and should be avoided. It is a list of mostly published authors. I had to submit material to be included on the list, and now I'm reluctant to tell them I've never heard of this rule. Is this common knowledge among writers? Have I missed something somewhere?

Pick up the average book on writing style or editing, and you'll see that "-ing" phrases have a bad reputation.

As part of an introductory phrase, it's overused and prone to misuse.

Misuse -- Picking up the gun, she walked across the room and shot him.

The introductory phrase happens at the same time as the verbs in the sentence do so the sentence above is impossible.

Proper use -- Grasping his shoulder, he fell.

The verb and the introductory phrase can be done at the same time so it's correct.

Overuse -- Too much of them weaken the writing as any overuse weakens writing.

I'm prone to using them to avoid having too many sentences beginning with "he" or "she." That's where rewriting the rewriting comes in.

The other common overuse is attaching the "-ing" phrase to a dialogue tag.


"I don't like it, " she said, shaking her red correction pencil in my face.

In my first few years of serious writing, I kept a large index card by my typewriter then computer. On it, I kept a list of my most common writing weaknesses, and I used it as a rewriting checklist.

Back then, my favorite book on editing was GETTING THE WORDS RIGHT: HOW TO REWRITE, EDIT, AND REVISE by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. It's been reprinted a number of times with different names. Use the author's name to find the book at Amazon or at your local library.


Copyright 2008 by Marilynn Byerly

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