Readers don’t enjoy spinning their wheels, getting nowhere. Since the progressive tense describes an ongoing action, the feel of moving forward in the story is lost. That’s okay, if that’s your intension, but check to see if the active verb is better. Much of the time, you want to avoid the progressive tense and participial phrases (the –ing words).
- Say What You Mean.
The progressive tense suggests an action that continues indefinitely, which might not be what you intend to say. For example: Jimmy was buttoning his shirt. Did he ever finish buttoning his shirt? Of course. The better sentence is: Jimmy buttoned his shirt. Here are a few more examples:
- Mom’s keys were jangling jangled in her hand as she was pulling pulled her sunglasses down to cover her eyes.
- She started brushing brushed the wet spots. (Brushing indicates a continuing action while started is of brief duration. Which was it?)
- Putting her Her hands to her mouth, she ran to the bathroom. (For the duration, she may have had her hand to her mouth, but he didn’t keep putting her hand to her mouth.)
- His father would be arriving arrive the following afternoon. (It takes all afternoon to arrive? Arrival takes place in a moment, so it can’t be a progressive event.)
- Watch for Dangling Modifiers.
At the beginning of the sentence, the participial phrase must add meaning to the subject of the following verb. When an appropriate subject is missing, readers have to guess what the author intended, which they should never have to do. For example: Arriving at the theater, the popcorn was his first thought. Was the popcorn arriving at the theater? Identify the problem with the following sentences:
- Sitting on the floor in a circle, the girls’ legs touched toe to toe.
- Taking a hard swing, the bat flew from his hands.
- Spinning his wheels, Dirk slammed the accelerator to the floorboard.
- Rushing toward my favorite department store, my new shoes were topmost on my mind.
- Be Sure the Timing is Right
The ongoing action of the introductory phrase is unsettling when it doesn’t match the duration of the verb that follows. Watch for out-of-sync timing, and you can look better than best-selling professional who let them slip by.
- Closing the door, she set the timer. She closed the door and set the timer. (The two actions are sequential, not concurrent, so the participial phrase isn’t the best choice.)
- Stepping outside Outside the gate, they turned south. (Stepping outside the gate can’t coincide with turning south.)
- Handing After handing me a clip board, the officer began explaining explained the paper I would be signing was to sign.
- Clearing After clearing her throat, Corina told him everything. (She couldn’t have been talking while clearing her throat.)
- Minimize Use of the Progressive (-ing) Tense
Watch for the –ing words and see if an active verb is better. Many times it is.
- His body was convulsing convulsed like a wave on the ocean.
- Ruthie was using used more than half the syrup.
- We were supposed to be encouraging encourage one another.
- We were meeting met to determine the lineup of topics.
- The rain was coming came down in sheets.
- We are going to will sleep and eat here.
- To See Contrasting Stories about –ing Words, Click Here.