Erin's Poetry Tips

40 tips to poetry and poetry forums

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Gerunds and participles

Gerunds and participles are often confused, one for another. Here are the definitions of each and an explanation of their differences.

A gerund is a verb that ends in -ing and functions as a noun, since a gerund functions as a noun, it occupies some positions in a sentence that a noun ordinarily would.

Ex: (direct object/subject)
They do not like my writing.

…(subject compliment)
My brother’s favorite hobby is skating.

…(object of preposition)
He was suspended for fighting.

Gerunds have one of two effects on writing. When properly used, gerunds can be used effectively to add a sense of movement to poetry. To do this, the writer must pre-think (and often re-think) his choices of frequency and placement.
When overused, or used without forethought, they tend to weaken the piece, because rather than giving the reader a concrete bit of foot placement from which to make the next step, they just whisk the reader along, never giving them a chance to stop and consider the path he’s followed. For a strong piece of poetry, one should use gerunds sparingly, and for a preconceived effect. Let your reader make his own way through the piece, give him time to consider, the opportunity to take in the message.

A participle is a verb that is used as an adjective and most often ends in -ing or –ed, they function as adjectives, and modify nouns or pronouns.

Carrying his bag, he trudged through the snow.
The home, destroyed by fire, was a total loss.
She walks sadly through the whispering forest.

Although often mistaken for gerunds, participles usually don’t weaken a piece to the same degree as a gerund, because they are used as an adjective. Most readers subconsciously understand that an adjective isn’t a necessary part of the sentence as is the subject, and can differentiate the two. However, too many participles take us away from the core of the message we try to convey, and therefore leave us with a weaker result.

In poetry particularly, this is a fine line. We wouldn’t want to say “She walked through a forest” and try to call it poetry. It isn’t descriptive enough without any modifiers, it lacks the ‘art’. The secret lies in being able to judge when enough is enough. Perhaps my advice here should be two-fold (here come the clichés. . . )
“Think before you leap.” and
“All things in moderation.”