The use of participles (“-ing” verbs) to get sentences off to a lively start was recommended in one of my earliest posts, on October 10, 2014 (http://www.normfriedman.com/blog/i-got-choppy-rhythm/). Here’s what I said at the end of that post about avoiding monotonous sentence structure:
Another handy sentence beginning – woefully underused – is the participle, as in the following two examples:
Realizing that our consultant can’t meet with us until the 15th, I’d like to delay submission of our proposal by one week.
Appreciating my help in smoothing out his writing, Joe is treating me to happy hour at Paddy’s Pub tonight.
Now that eight months have passed since my claim that this artful device is “woefully underused,” it’s about time I offered a brief practice session in leading with a participle. Try your hand at overcoming the dull rhythm in these passages.
Sheila noticed several seminar participants shifting in their seats. She quickly ended her talk and asked for questions.
I encouraged my grandson to try out for the school play. I also suggested we read through the play together and discuss it.
Parker raced toward third base. He then realized he might have missed second, backtracked, and settled for a double.
Here are possible rewrites:
Noticing several seminar participants shifting in their seats, Sheila quickly ended her talk and asked for questions.
Encouraging my grandson to try out for the school play, I suggested we read through the play together and discuss it.
Racing toward third base, Parker realized he might have missed second, backtracked, and settled for a double.
Now try similar refinements, even though creating participles is not the solution.
The factory is situated on the edge of the river. It was the town’s first major employer.
My mom is an excellent baker. She has shared her pie and cake recipes with countless friends and relatives.
Greg is at the fitness center all the time. He’ll be making some old friends envious at the reunion.
Situated on the edge of the river, the factory was the town’s first major employer.
An excellent baker, my mom has shared her pie and cake recipes with countless friends and relatives.
A regular at the fitness center, Greg will be making some old friends envious at the reunion.
Postscripts: (1) Straightforward subject-verb sentence construction is a cornerstone of clear writing, but when too many sentences start with the subject, our writing can come across as boring and unsophisticated. Changing the beginnings of just a few sentences markedly improves our style.
(2) Note that in all six revised sentences the person or thing that follows the comma (Sheila, I, Parker, the factory, my mom, and Greg) is what is being described in the first part of the sentence. Failing to ensure that pattern yields a “dangling modifier,” discussed in February (http://www.normfriedman.com/blog/making-sentence-parts-fit/).
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.