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The $4,000 Writing Tip from ‘Wheel of Fortune’

gerund, gerundive, wheel of fortune

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.

For example:

– 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:

Hi ______,

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:

Hi ______,

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


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