No More GIP Confusion: Gerunds, Infinitives & Participles
by Owen Fourie
GIPs or PIGs needn’t confuse you. The first part of this article made this clear. Let’s get rid of the remaining confusion.
Distinguish between gerunds and participles
To avoid the confusion of the -ing endings of gerunds and present participles, identify what an -ing word is doing in a sentence. Ask these two questions:
- Is it acting as a noun? If it is, it’s a gerund.
- Is it acting as an adjective? If it is, it’s a participle.
Apply this to the following sentences from Part One:
- Exploring the mystery of sleep might be the subject of my next essay.
- Researching the mystery of sleep, Justin was amazed at the facts he found.
In the first sentence, exploring is part of a phrase preceding the linking verb might be. This phrase is serving as the subject of the sentence. It is acting as a noun; therefore, exploring is a gerund at the head of a gerund phrase.
In the second sentence, researching is part of a phrase preceding the subject, Justin, and modifying the proper noun, Justin. It is acting as an adjective; therefore, researching is a participle at the head of a participial phrase.
Distinguish between infinitives and prepositional phrases beginning with to
When you see the word to in a sentence, be sure to make a distinction between
- to followed by the base form of a verb, which is an infinitive (to sleep, to write), and
- to followed by a noun (or pronoun) as the object of the preposition forming a prepositional phrase.
Apply this to a sentence from Part One:
My plan to leave early is the key to the success of this operation.
In the first part of this sentence, in the phrase “to leave early,” to is followed by the base form of a verb. Therefore, “to leave” is an infinitive.
In the second part, in the phrase “to the success,” to is followed by a noun—success—the object of the preposition to. Therefore, “to the success” is a prepositional phrase.
Mind the split infinitive
If you place another word between to and the base form of a verb, such as in “to quietly leave,” you are splitting the infinitive.
This is acceptable in informal speech and writing, but do not do this in formal situations. You should say or write, “to leave quietly.”
What about punctuation?
You can look at the example sentences for gerunds, infinitives, and participles in Part One to see how they are punctuated.
Gerunds and gerund phrases do not require punctuation.
When an infinitive or an infinitive phrase is used as an adverb at the beginning of a sentence, a comma must separate it from the rest of the sentence.
Let’s borrow an example from Part One and change it to illustrate this point:
To achieve this objective, I must take the Lamborghini.
Punctuation for participles and participial phrases needs careful attention.
- If the participle or participial phrase occurs at the beginning of a sentence, place a comma after the word or phrase: Researching the mystery of sleep, Justin was amazed at the facts he found.
- If the participle or participial phrase occurs in the middle of a sentence and its information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, place commas before and after the word or phrase: Justin, stimulated by many thoughts, found it difficult to stop writing.
- If the participial phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence, do not use commas: The teacher announcing the award for best-researched essay gave it to Justin.
- If the participial phrase occurs at the end of a sentence, place a comma before it only if it does not immediately follow the word it modifies: Justin keenly cited his sources, excited by his discoveries. (modifies Justin, not his sources)
Dang! A dangling modifier
The noun that is modified by a participial phrase needs to be present, and both noun and phrase must be positioned as closely as possible to each other.
Writing many pages, his essay needed drastic revision to meet the required length.
Obviously, the essay cannot do the writing. The real writer is missing, so the participial phrase is left dangling without a noun to modify.
Here is the correction:
Writing many pages, Justin knew his essay needed drastic revision to meet the required length.
What’s in your PIG trough?
Be sure to apply these points about PIGs in your writing to escape the trough of errors.
Dangling modifiers can be a source of humor. Click on the text link in the previous sentence to see more examples.
If there are any points about verbals that still puzzle you, ask here for clarification. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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