When Dealing With Back-to-Back “Ing” Verbs


Verbs.

They’re such an amazing grammatical category filled with vim and vigor, expression and thought. Not to mention just a general expression of existence.

Running, laughing, observing, resting, articulating, contemplating, reaching…

So many ways to express ourselves. So many verbs to use.

Grammatically speaking, sentences simply can’t exist without verbs. You can have those that leave out prepositions, adverbs, adjectives and conjunctions. And even nouns and pronouns can be implied instead of directly included.

“Go!” is a grammatically acceptable sentence, after all. It has a verb and an implied pronoun, which makes it complete.

Yet lest verbs get too big of a head, let’s throw out a cautionary thought: Using a lot of verbs in a sentence doesn’t necessarily make it stronger. In fact, it could just louse it up.

For the record, this cautionary tale has nothing to do with grammarians’ issue against starting sentences with an “ing” word. They say it’s lazy or ineffective for some reason that, frankly, I just don’t care enough about to delve into.

Variety is the spice of writing. Which means that switching up our sentence structure is almost always going to be a plus, not a negative.

However, that’s not to say that “ing” verbs can’t trip us professional writers up – particularly when they come back to back.

For example:

  • When you are finishing writing, don’t forget to include a proper parting thought.

  • If he’s running away, he’s risking everything.

  • She’s really uptight about her grades – meaning talking about it with her is useless.

See how awkward those sound?

And yes, even though they’re written down, not spoken aloud, readers still tend to “hear” them inside their heads. As such, when writing, you do have to pay attention to the auditory sensations your words produce. Not just the intellectual vibrations.

Fortunately, there’s almost always a simple solution to back-to-back “ing” verbs. To illustrate this, let’s return to our little list above.

When you are finishing writing, don’t forget to include a proper parting thought.

Solution 1: Change your to-be verb’s tense. Instead of saying “When you are,” try “When you have.” This automatically flips the first “ing” verb around as well so that the final sentence reads, “When you have finished writing, don’t forget to include a proper parting thought.” Solution 2: Let’s say that you really, really, really want to keep the tense for some reason. The surrounding sentences or main point rests heavily on phrasing this latest point just-so. No problem though.

Throw in an extra word between the two, and you haven’t tampered with the feel of the sentence one bit while still improving the sound of it. For instance, “When you are finishing up writing, don’t forget to include a proper parting thought.” Easy peasy.

If he’s running away, he’s risking everything.

Solution 1: In this case, the passive “to be” verb can probably go altogether. The first “he’s” could be crucial to expressing how this is a pressing situation going down as we speak (or write).

But the second one? Not so much. Try on something like this for size instead: “If he’s running away, he risks everything.”

Solution 2: Add in a bunch more words between the two “ing” verbs so they don’t trip up the mental tongue quite so badly. Perhaps something along the lines of: “If he’s running away, he has to know that he’s risking everything.”

She’s really uptight about her grades – meaning talking about it with her is useless.

Solution 1: A verb tense change doesn’t really apply here, but that’s not to say you’re up a professional writing creek. Not even close. Adding in “that” – a word that can normally be cut – could solve all your problems here. Because of its hard stop of an ending, “that” is attention-grabbing enough to draw focus away from the awkwardness of two “ing” words in a row. Read it over for yourself: “She’s really uptight about her grades – meaning that talking about it with her is useless.”

Solution 2: Cut out or replace one of the “ing” words altogether. You can make your point just as clearly here without “meaning” as with it. “So,” for one, works just as well. “She’s really uptight about her grades – so talking about it with her is useless.

Awkwardness gone. Problem solved.

Write on. "Ing" verbs and all.

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