Avoiding Awkward Sentences Part 2

How did you do with those sentences? I’m sure you did great because they were pretty obvious. The trick will be to find the useless words, redundant words/passages, and confusing negative phrases in our own writing.

Here are the sentences and book answers…just in case. 😉
1. Actually, a basic and fundamental part of cooking is making sure you don’t have the wrong ingredients. A fundamental part of cooking is making sure you have the right ingredients.

2. Each and every student deserves a fair and equal chance to try out for intramural sports. Every student deserves a fair chance to try out for intramural sports. (Do you think you need intramural? I took it out when I rewrote the sentence in my head. What do you think?)

3. First and foremost, the Board of Directors cannot make a decision without a consensus of opinon. First, the Board of Directors cannon make a decision without a consensus. (I dropped First and just started with “The Board…)

4. At an earlier time today, my sister told me she would pick me up after the end of work. Earlier today, my sister told me she would pick me up after work.

5. Various different people in our office were not against moving the water cooler to a location that would be less difficult for everyone to reach. Various people in our office were in favor of moving the water cooler to a location that would be easier for everyone to reach. (I actually changed some wording–Various people in our office were in favor of moving the water cooler to a more convenient location.)

6. One accidental mistake some beginning swimmers make is not remembering to kick. One mistake some beginning swimmers make is forgetting to kick. (This still felt weak and passive to me so I changed it a little more–Some beginning swimmers make the mistake of forgetting to kick. Still not a great sentence…)

Now, on to today’s topic–Verbal Phrases (participles, gerunds, infinitives and appositives)
When I saw this section I pulled a Miley Cyrus, “book say what?!” *It’s ok, I have a ten year old girl living in my house…* One of the people critiquing my query had a problem with how I started a sentence, but couldn’t remember what the phrase was called. It was one of the above, but since I deleted it I can’t pull it up to check which one.

I’m going to keep this as simple as possible. Verbal phrases can be very helpful in your writing when used correctly and with moderation. Below is another quote from Proofreading, Revising and Editing Skills, with my thoughts added in italics. I just can’t keep my mouth shut…

Short sentences have their purpose. They tend to be clear and direct. A series of short sentences, however, can make the writing feel choppy and monotonous. (Same with a series of long rambling sentences.) There are many methods to revise short, choppy sentences, such as combining sentences, or using verbal phrases. Verbal phrases are formed from verbs, but act like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence. (p 37)

Participles and Participle Phrases

This is the verb that is used as an adjective in your sentence, meaning it describes a noun. The phrase is a verb and any modifiers that act as an adjective.
Example:
Developing off the coast of Haiti, a tropical storm brought rain and high winds to the West Indies.
Can you pick out the participle?
Ask yourself, what is the sentence about–>a tropical storm
What verbs do you see in the sentence–>form of develop and brought
Which verb is the acting verb–>brought  The storm brought rain and wind.
That leaves developing as our participle, with the words off the coast of Haiti as modifiers. The whole phrase gives more information–describes–about the subject or noun storm.

Example:
We saw Lance Armstrong receiving the yellow jersey after the first mountain stage of the Tour de France.
Ask the same questions. This time the phrase comes after the noun it is describing. Receiving the yellow jersey points back to Lance Armstrong.

Gerunds and Gerund Phrases

A gerund is a verb ending in –ing and acts as a noun.
Example:
Running is a good way to stay in shape.
Wow, look at that. The subject of this sentence is Running, which is a form of the verb run, but it is acting as a noun. How do you know it is acting as a noun? I always ask questions, such as: What is a good what to stay in shape? Running.

Example:
Until I revise many times, I am not happy with my writing.
What am I not happy with? Writing which is a form of the verb write.

Example:
My brother enjoys skiiing at Crystal Mountain.
What does my brother enjoy? Skiing is the noun and at Crystal Mountain is a modifier giving more information about skiing.


Infinitives and Infinitive Phrases

These are verbs composed of to plus the verb base. I know you’ve heard of split infinitives, that is when you put words between to and the verb. Everyone says that is bad, but I’ve never seen an explanation why. Is it because it is confusing.  

to walk, to speak, to cry, to leave, to eat are examples. These verbs are often part of a chain, but are not the main action verb of the sentence. (p 38)

Example:
Fred tried to speak quickly.
What is the main verb–>tried. What did Fred try to do–>speak quickly

Example:
There must be a way to get past the road block.
What is the main verb–>be. The infinitive phrase completes the phrase must be a way. (This example was as clear as mud for me. I see it, but I’m not sure why. Could be the fact it is a passive voice sentence to begin with…)


Appositives and Appositive Phrases

Appositives add description and detail to your writing to make it clearer. An appositive is a noun or pronoun used to identify or explain another noun. (p 39)

So, not a verb! Sorry to throw it in, but it was one of those things I don’t know that I ever heard in English class. 

Example:
My cousin Alejandro can play the piano.
The noun Alejandro identifies the  noun cousin. And according to this book, that has a name–appositive. 🙂

Example:
My grandmother, a talented cook, used to make an excellent pot roast.
Here the phrase a talented cook is used to describe the noun my grandmother.

Think you are ready to identify some phrases on your own? Here is a quick reminder:
Participles act as adjectives to describe a noun.
Gerunds end in –ing and act as a noun.
Infinitives start with to but are not the acting verb in the sentence.
Appositives are nouns or pronouns that identify or explain another noun.

Exercise:
Identify the italicized phrases.
1. Steve Largent, a former football player, is now a politician.
2. The doctor will try to diagnose the illness.
3. Having scored the winning goal, Christopher celebrated.
4. Mr. Smith enjoys jogging to work.
5. Invented for the U.S. military, compact discs have many uses. (I never knew!)
6. I can’t find my shoes, the ones with the red stripes.
7. Jenny was glad to be invited to the birthday party.

Answers tomorrow. Check in later this afternoon for the college paper that I found yesterday that I liked.

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About charitybradford

Science fiction and fantasy writer and blogger. My first novel is now available--The Magic Wakes (WiDo Publishing, 2013)

Posted on March 24, 2010, in writing exercises, Writing Lessons. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Your posts are always so informative. I read about writing skills and rules and… clearly I ignore most of them. I have good punctuation, though. That counts for something, right?I left you an award at my bloggity blog.

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