Wednesday, March 20, 2013

For Writers

This was published in the ICL newsletter last year. Thought my writer friends would enjoy.

Very Truly Yours, Gerund and Grawlix

Wow, that sounds like the sign off on some wacky cartoon show, doesn’t it?  But it’s not. It simply refers to the three grammar subjects in this article. They are; words ending in –ly, words ending in -ing, and these little babies #@%$#!!. I’ll save those for last.

Adverbs ending in ly, such as sadly, gladly, and madly, can modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a whole sentence. Here’s an example.

Whenever Sara danced, she did so badly.

The –ly word, badly, modifies danced. Pity Sara! Let’s hope the poor girl sang gladly and loved madly shall we? Next are a few examples of –ly words that have editors cringing when they’re reading your otherwise stellar piece of work.

“You can’t do that,” Bubba said laughingly. Cringe.

“Firstly I’d like to thank you all for coming.” Cringe, cringe.

Lilly Ladybug looked at him pleadingly. Okay, more cringing.

It should be noted that many adverbs are adjectives with an –ly attached. For instance,  incredible becomes incredibly, beautiful becomes beautifully, and proper becomes properly. So, when you’re in modifying mode and want to employ an –ly word take note of these three guidelines.
1.      Say the word – pleadingly – a real mouthful, huh? Little Ladybug pleaded with her eyes sounds much better. Test for sound quality.
2.      Firstly is a word, but why add the –ly when the word first serves the same purpose?
3.      Examine all your –ly suffixes in this fashion. If there’s a plain old word that will suit don’t fancy up the adjective when you don’t have to.
4.      Does the adverb modify well? Laughingly doesn’t tell your reader what’s intended to be conveyed about Bubba. Bubba should simply laugh because we all know what it is to laugh. Laughingly means in the manner of laughing. But it could be a sneer, a soundless yawn, a stupid grin, etc. You decide.

Words ending in –ly are often used as intensifiers and you want to be careful here. Going overboard is too easy. Like in this sentence.

He was extremely upset and frightfully wringing his hands about it.

Now, come on, do we have some melodrama going on here? You probably don’t need extremely and frightfully at all. A person wringing his hands is almost always upset. Your reader will get it.   


Sometimes called verbal nouns, gerunds are words ending in –ing and express action or a state of being. Take your humble verb – say, run – add the suffix –ing and now you have a noun, the gerund form of the word, running. Gerunds come in handy where economy of words is important; one of the reasons I love them. One gerund can take the place of two or three other words without affecting clarity.

She walked over to him and kissed his forehead. vs. Walking to him she kissed his forehead.

He tried to find a home and discovered it difficult. vs. Finding a home was difficult for him.

 By turning walk to walking and find to finding we’ve reduced two words in the first sentence and three in the second. The conjunction and has also been eliminated with no meaning being lost in either sentence.

Gerunds can be time savers, too. Notice in each of the changed sentences that there’s no punctuation. That’s because gerunds and gerund phrases rarely require punctuation. Really, wouldn’t this look silly?

Don’t get in trouble, by faking an illness to get out of school. That comma is unnecessary so save those keystrokes.


Now let’s break from the heavy stuff and have a little fun. You’ve seen these random non-alphabetic symbols, $%#$%!!! , and know what they mean, right?  At least you can imagine what they mean and are free to do so every time you see them. They are a way to indicate strong language without  using the actual words. That venerable cartoonist of the ‘60’s, Mort Walker, is credited in many quarters for using them in his comic strip, Beetle Bailey. And that’s mostly where you see them. But isn’t it cool that Mr. Walker went ahead and made an innovative stab at changing how we look at things? Most writers look for new ways to express themselves, but it takes a near genius to achieve this. Bravo, Mort!

Image: Free Digital Photos


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Susan. It's great advice that makes great sense! :)

  2. Now I'm scared to write "ditto" so I'll simply note that this was a good read. :-)

    What is ICL? I know what ICLE is, but not ICL.

    Be well, my friend!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Janette! ICL is the Institute of Children's Literature. Glad you enjoyed the read. You be well, too. Happy Easter!