Monday, September 10, 2007

Sitting Around, Thinking about Gerunds

I will pull together three topics in today’s post, including gerunds and the passive voice (again). Please bear with me, and ignore the technical terms if you like. The concepts matter more than the proper names for them.

I ran across the term “stative verbs”. What, pray tell, are those? You rarely use these verbs with an –ing ending. They are almost wholly passive. Check the above link for a more detailed explanation. I didn’t want to frighten you all with the term “present perfect progressive”, nor did I want to derail my thoughts by describing it.

My English Teacher also has on that page a list of common stative verbs. I got there from their page on using gerunds. It occurred to me that perhaps looking for stative verbs used as gerunds would provide a clear way to identify passive sentences.

Take, for instance, the phrase “looking pretty.” Do you assume that the person described is, say, jumping around calling attention to herself? She is being looked at by someone, not acting. Thus, she passively receives the action, “Sue is looking pretty.” You could use “appears” instead, but Sue remains passive. Dang! The gerund gave it away but appearances can be deceiving.

Combine the two concepts for a more powerful tool. Look for either gerunds, especially followed with “by”, or stative verbs – and if you find both you know something isn’t going on.

Eliminate instances in your writing where something else acts on your subject unless you wish to emphasize that thing or person. Make your actors active and they’ll hold the attention of your readers. If your hero sits around waiting for villains to attack, your readers won’t wait with him.


4 comments:








BNS

said...

This may interest you: Gerunds pose a translation problem in many instances.

I've done a fair amount of cross-cultural research, and frequently have had to have material (e.g., questionnaires) translated into several languages. The procedure I use is to have materials translated into a target language by a native speaker who is fluent in English, then have a native English speaker who is fluent in the target language 'back-translate' it without having seen the original. The back-translated English version is then compared to the original English version as a check. If there are discrepancies, the translation team members sit down together and hammer out the nuances until everyone agrees.

In my experience, gerunds almost always turn into a problem -- especially with translations into "non-Western" languages. I've learned to avoid using them (and a few other constructions as well) in material that will be translated.





legbamel

said...

Thanks for the information! I'd love it if you'd share the other constructs that pose a barrier to non-native speakers.





BNS

said...

It's not so much that they "pose a barrier to non-native speakers" -- although that may be the case as well. What I was talking about was having to have written/printed research materials -- such as survey questionnaires -- translated accurately into several languages.

Here are a few pointers for writing material that is intended for translation in a way that will reduce mis-translation or what I call "squirrel" translation:

Avoid metaphors and colloquialisms. Often they don't have a good equivalent in other languages, and if they are translated literally they can be a disaster.

The subjunctive mode -- would, could, should -- does not translate well into many non-Western languages.

It's better to use very specific terms, rather than general ones, e.g. "police department," instead of "law enforcement agency."

Use short, simple sentences, preferably with only one verb.

I also use certain vocabulary items preferentially. "Choose" is better (less ambiguous) than "pick" or "select," for example. "Pick" and "select" can have many other meanings besides "choose;" whereas "choose" is not likely to be translated as anything other than what you intended.

Put in a quarter and I could go on all night! ;-)





legbamel

said...

I'd be happy to read it! I struggle with my "too cute" language gene often. Sometimes I win and remove the plays on words and silly phrasing but other times I miss them completely. This is good information. Thanks so much for sharing it.