With finals coming up, some of you are probably pumping out papers like crazy. So, as a writing tutor for two years who has seen hundreds upon hundreds of papers, I decided to offer as much help as I can. So, I decided to start a series addressing common errors here. Today’s topic: gerund phrases.
Gerunds are verbs turned into nouns by taking the -ing form, like walking, thinking, or writing. Gerund phrases are phrases beginning with the gerund, like “walking down the street.” These phrases can describe a noun (“Gerald, walking down the street“) or be direct objects (“Gerald enjoyed walking down the street“), but the important part is to indicate what is being described.
The most common format I’ve seen for gerund phrases is to have it lead into the sentence. However, it’s often abused by writers not realizing what the gerund phrase is describing, like in the following example:
Walking down the street, the buildings reflected light into Gerald’s eyes.
Look at this sentence’s gerund phrase, and then look at the subject, which it is supposed to describe. What does the phrase appear to be describing?
That’s right: the buildings. The buildings, according to this sentence, are walking down the street. While this is an interesting concept, for most writing, it is an error that will really confuse your reader. The following sentence has resolved the issue by switching the subject to what belongs best.
Walking down the street, Gerald was blinded by the sun reflecting from the buildings.
Remember: almost all phrases leading into the sentence describe the subject. So make sure your subject is the right one!