Present Participles and a Verb Tenses Chart


Remember how I said (weeks ago) that I would have available for everyone a verb tenses chart? Well, it will arrive…next week!

Big Lebowski

Now, I certainly do not deserve the honor of having made it–that belongs to one of the other members of the Facebook Fiction Writing group. I will be linking to his blog, which also covers grammar and writing styles. He needs a week to do some maintenance on the site before I can link to it.

Also, Ms. Charlotte Clark over at Wonderfully Bookish was kind enough to add me to her new Author Spotlight series. Here is the link to her blog and my interview. Enjoy!

In the meantime, we will go over present participles again.

A present participle ends in -ing. Snoring, boring, whor-what?!  Walking, talking, etc.

Present Participles imply that something is taking place at the same time as the main action. The present participles themselves DO NOT determine the overall tense of the piece. So, you can be writing in the past tense (-ed) and still use present participles without changing the tense.

I’ll be using examples from the upcoming Nefarious: Volume III. Here is what I mean:

Outside, I opened it to hide my face. Swollen clouds gathered over and above the call of the magpie, the raven, and the jay. My feet slipped on the cobblestones as I cut through the empty back alleys on this lazy Sunday morning.  Bees sipped the azaleas in full bloom— hues of red CLIMBING against efflorescent walls of stone and brick that soon turned to clapboard with PEELING paint.

As you can see, the above sample is clearly written in past tense, although we have used a present participles, climbing and peeling. Using a present participle here does not change the tense of the paragraph. The climbing of the azaleas is used to denote that they are doing this continuously–what they are doing is happening simultaneously as the bees sip them. And the same denotation applies to peeling in relation to the paint.

Another example:

The way she tilted her chin and laughed–those FLASHING green eyes, like how the leaves wave silver just before a coming storm. I took a long drag, puffed the smoke in little rings out the window.

Again, the paragraph is written in past tense. The present participle, flashing, does not change that. What it does is show us that her eyes were doing something while she laughed.

The purpose of the present participle is to show the reader that something is happening in a continuous tense, or at the same time as the main action. Here is an example with a speaker tag:

“Hello sweetie,” she said, SMELLING like powder and tea cakes.

So, the present participle smelling shows us what is happening while “Hello sweetie,” is said. She says something, while she smells like powder and tea cakes.

Present participles are a good way to add some variety to your writing.

I could hear the SNAPPING of their greedy selfish jaws in the humid night air, the damp scent of the cemetery still TURNING in my lungs like a field afresh in spring beneath the farmer’s plow.

Here we have snapping and turning which show us what is happening as he listens.

Remember, present participles are used most effectively when they show something happening at the same time as the main action.

Now, present participles need to be used precisely (sparingly) or else they can turn an otherwise active passage to a passive one, or they can confuse you, create run-on sentences, lead to wordiness, cause you to switch tenses, and/or create dangling participles.

Guy gasping

A dangling participle is when the subject of the sentence following a participial phrase is unclear.  A participial phrase is a phrase that contains a participle that modifies the subject.

Examples of dangling participles:

Washing the car, dirt swirled down the storm drain.

Biting her lip, the moon bathed the wooded glen in silvery light.

Tugging the harp strings, the room filled with music. 

So, you see in the examples above that the subjects are unclear.

Is the dirt washing the car?

Does the moon bite her lip?

Does the room tug harp strings?

You would fix these by making the subject clear after the participial phrase, or by eliminating the participial phrase all together.

Washing the car, I noticed dirt swirling down the storm drain.

She bit her lip as the moon bathed the wooded glen in silvery light.

Tugging the harp strings, the musician soon filled the room with music. 

Here are a few more examples of present participle abuse:

Taking it all in slowly, holding his hand while she flipped the pancakes.

See how wordy and confusing that is? Use the present participle sparingly:

Holding his hand, she took it all in slowly and flipped the pancakes.

And again:

Waiting for take off, Dusty Crophopper, adjusting his propeller and eyeing the scenery, flexed his wings in anticipation. 

A more effective approach:

While waiting for take off, Dusty Crophopper eyed the scenery, adjusted his propeller, and flexed his wings in anticipation.

I hope this helps to eliminate some confusion. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions.

In the next post I will be giving some more updates on Volume II’s release and possibly an illustration reveal. Thanks for sticking with me!




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