Continuous Verbs

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abstract-2915769_640.jpg"Sometimes I'm guilty of lumping continuous verbs into the same category as passive verbs because both types, used incorrectly, create wordiness and cause slow, turgid writing that could be much livelier." Pearl Luke

Raising my hand to say, "me, too!" I'm always circling "was walking," "am running," "was throwing," etc. and telling my students to use a simple past tense: walked, ran, threw. My advice to writers is often, "Search for those 'ing' endings and see if the verb can be straight past tense."

Leah McClellan says, "When overused, -ing words in the progressive forms (whether past, present, or future tense) introduce too many weak, little words like am, are, is, was, were, been, have, has, and had--and more."

You may remember the term "helping verbs" from grade school. The italicized verbs above are helping the main verb. However, those main verbs are strong enough to live on their own.

Let's look at a few examples with the "ing" removed:
"They were standing on the corner by the high school." - "They stood on the corner by the high school."
"She is brushing her hair." - "She brushes her hair."
"He has been walking his dog." - "He walked his dog."

Does that mean you never use an "ing" on a verb? Of course not. But if it is the only verb in the sentence, limit the use. Sometimes it is necessary in context.

We need it in phrases. "While walking the dog, Mandy called her best friend." "Shaking his head, Mike set his books on the table." In both of these cases, we are indicating two actions that are happening at the same time. If they are not simultaneous, they might look like this: "Mandy walked the dog, then called her best friend." "Mike shook his head and set his books on the table." Just make sure the actions are possible to do at the same time when using a phrase.

We use it correctly in examples such as this one: "They were eating dinner when I arrived."

It's necessary when using the verb as a gerund. "Skiing is my passion." Or "Reading is how I relax at night." Leah McClellan says, "Gerunds are useful because they point to the essence of an action--the concept or thing-ness of it--rather than the action in performance."

But, remember, in simple sentences less "ing" is clearer and more concise.


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