By Danny Rubin
Managing Editor, News To Live By
No one watches game shows to improve their grammar, but a recent episode of ‘Wheel of Fortune’ actually provides a great writing tip.
Last week, contestant Renee Durette incorrectly solved a Christmas-themed puzzle. The answer was ‘SEVEN SWANS-A-SWIMMING‘ yet Durette pronounced the final word as ‘SWIMMIN.’ Just like that, and she lost nearly $4,000.
That’s right. 4 grand for leaving off the ‘G.’
At the same time, the ‘i-n-g’ gaffe sets up a really solid writing tip. The topic is ‘-ing’ words, otherwise known as gerunds (pronounced ‘djerund’). Those are verbs that can often take the place of nouns.
– I like eating. (‘eating’ in this case is a noun)
– Building this house takes a plan. (”building this house’ is a noun phrase)
We use -‘ing’ verbs all the time and probably don’t realize it. While I usually believe we should write like we talk — because it’s conversational and more engaging — I try to draw the line with gerunds. That’s because excessive ‘-ing’ words slow down your writing.
For example, a basic email to a client:
Just want to tell you that I am really looking forward to coming to the event tomorrow. The planning is coming along nicely, and I think the entire night is going to be a big success. Also, I am going to the store in the afternoon and can buy stuff if you need me too. Having done these events in the past, I know it’s always good to have more than we need. Plus, I like making sure we’re prepared.
See you soon!
That’s a pretty normal e-mail, but it’s riddled with ‘-ing’ words. See the difference with the gerunds removed:
Just want to tell you that I really look forward to the event tomorrow. I think we have all the preparations finished, and I expect the night to be a big success. Also, I am going to the store in the afternoon and can buy stuff if you need me too. I have done these events in the past and know it’s always good to have more than we need. Plus, I want to make sure we’re prepared.
See you soon!
The second time, the sentences are stronger with ‘-ing’ removed. I left in the phrase ‘I am going to the store’ because the gerund rule isn’t absolute. Sometimes, an ‘-ing’ is OK.
Whenever you write an ‘-ing’ word, ask yourself: is there a way to write this same word/phrase but without the ‘-ing’? Try to make it active voice:
‘I am looking forward to…’ becomes ‘I look forward to…’
or the infinitive (‘to ____):
‘Having my family here is…’ becomes ‘It’s really nice to have my family here…’
By that logic, the clue on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ should have read ‘SEVEN SWANS SWIM.’ I realize that’s not the line in Christmas song. Plus, I don’t claim to be a game show judge. If I were, there’s just one thing I would do:
Go back in time and give Renee Durette her $4,000.
Everyone in America knows she got the puzzle right.
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© 2012, Danny Rubin
December 7, 2012
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