Words ending in ing are mostly verbal participles or gerunds, and, as we shall see, it is not always easy to say which is which. By way of introduction it will be enough to observe that when they are of the nature of participles they may be true verbs (I was working) or adjectives (a working agreement) or in rare cases prepositions (concerning this question) or conjunctions (supposing this happened); if they are of the nature of gerunds they are always nouns (I am pleased at his coming) —or rather a hybrid between a noun and a verb, for you may use the gerund with the construction either of a noun (after the careful reading of these papers) or of a mixture between a verb and a noun (after carefully reading these papers). It is most confusing, but fortunately we are seldom called on to put a label on these words, and so I have preferred to give this section an indeterminate title.
Numerous pitfalls beset the use of ing-words. Here are some of them:
(i) Absolute construction.
This is, in itself, straightforward enough. The absolute construction, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, is a name given to a phrase "standing out of grammatical relation or syntactical construction with other words". In the sentence "The chairman having restored order,the committee resumed", the phrase "the chairman having restored order" forms an absolute construction.
But there is no absolute construction in the sentence "The chairman, having restored order, called on the last speaker to continue". Here the chairman is the subject of the sentence.
Because of a confusion with that type of sentence, it is a curiously common error to put a comma in the absolute construction.
(ii) Unattached (or unrelated) participle.
This blunder is rather like the last. A writer begins a sentence with a participle (which, since it is a sort of adjective, must be given a noun to support it) and then forgets to give it its noun, thus leaving it "unattached".
Arising out of a collision between a removal van and a fully loaded bus in a fog, E.C.F.,removal van driver, appeared on a charge of manslaughter.
Grammatically in this sentence it was the van-driver, not the charge against him, that arose out of the collision. He probably did; but that was not what the writer meant.
Whilst requesting you to furnish the return now outstanding you are advised that in future it would greatly facilitate. . . .
Requesting is unattached. If the structure of this rather clumsy sentence is to be retained it must run " Whilst requesting you . . . , I advise you that . . . "
As has been mentioned, some ing-words have won the right to be treated as prepositions. Among them are regarding, considering, owing to, concerning, failing and seeing. When any of these is used as a preposition, there can be no question of its being misused as an unattached participle:
Considering the attack that had been made on him, his speech was moderate in tone.
If however considering were used not as a preposition-participle but as an adjective-participle, it could be unattached. It is so in:
Considering the attack on him beneath his notice, his speech was moderate in tone.
Past participles, as well as present, may become unattached:
Formal application is now being made for the necessary way-leave consent, and as soon as received the work will proceed.
Grammatically received can only be attached to work; and that is nonsense. The writer should have said "as soon as this is received".
(iii) Unattached gerund.
A gerund can become unattached in much the same way as a participle:
Indeed we know little of Stalin's personality at all: a few works of Bolshevik theory, arid and heavy, and speeches still more impersonal, without literary grace, repeating a few simple formulas with crushing weight —after reading these Stalin appears more a myth than a man.
Grammatically "after reading these" means after Stalin has read them, not after we have.
(iv) Gerund and infinitive.
In what seems to be a completely arbitrary way, some nouns, adjectives, and verbs like to take an infinitive, and some a gerund with a preposition.
|Dislike of doing||Reluctance to do|
|Capable of doing||Able to do|
|Demur to doing||Hesitate to do|
Instances could be mutiplied indefinitely. There is no rule; it can only be a matter of observation and consulting a dictionary when in doubt.
(v) The "fused participle".
All authorities agree that it is idiomatic English to write "the Bill's getting a second reading surprised everyone": that is to say it is correct to treat getting as a gerund requiring Bill's to be in the possessive. What they are not agreed about is whether it is also correct to treat getting as a participle, and write "the Bill getting a second reading surprised everyone". If that is a legitimate grammatical construction, the subject of the sentence, which cannot be Bill by itself, or getting by itself, must be a fusion of the two. Hence the name "fused participle".
With a proper name or personal pronoun there is no temptation to employ a fused participle. Nobody would prefer "He coming (or Smith coming) surprised me" to "His coming (or Smith's coming) surprised me". That is sure ground.
For the rest, it is always possible, and generally wise, to be on the safe side by turning the sentence round, and writing neither "the Bill getting, etc." (which offends some purists) nor "the Bill's getting, etc." (which sounds odd to some ears) but "everyone was surprised that the Bill got a second reading".
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