User:OrenBochman/Grammar Drills 1

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Ethel Richardson (1870–1946), who wrote under the pseudonym Henry Handel Richardson, was a significant novelist during Australia's movement out of the colonial period. I'm sure she was careful to use noun plus -ing in only the most elegant contexts.

These exercises present sentences containing unsatisfactory instances of the common grammatical construction, "noun plus -ing" (verbal noun). First, locate the verbal noun; then, think of a solution that is grammatical. Hit the three "shows" at the right and you'll be taken step by step through ways of fixing it; try to think of the answers first.


This construction—also known as "with" plus [noun] plus -ing—is often grammatically ambiguous, where the "-ing" phrase could either qualify the noun (adjectival) or be part of a possessive construction in which the noun "owns" the action. These two constructions seem to have become confused in modern English; the result is that "noun plus -ing" is often used clumsily. The context and wording varies with respect to how well you can get away with it (even Jane Austen "gets away with it" on occasion!). "Noun plus -ing" can be seen in:

  • "I object to him being there", in which "him" is the noun. We need to stop and think before using it, given that it can almost always be replaced with a neater construction.
  • "Us going to the movies tomorrow? I doubt it." In a formal register, the possessive is required: "Our going to ...". Or just drop the first word if it's clear in the context.

However, .... a quite acceptable usage is "The archaeological finds included silver pendants of females bearing drinking horns." Here, "bearing drinking horns" looks like some kind of adjectival phrase, qualifying females. Perhaps this is the root of the problem: two quite different grammatical structures that have become confused.

The 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (2008), p. 193, labels the "with + noun + -ing" construction as "slovenly", although it fails to analyse why this is so or to distinguish between the slovenly and the ungrammatical. CMOS gives the example "They all went to the beach with me being left to wash the dishes", but does not take the opportunity of providing a simple alternative—perhaps, "They all went to the beach leaving me to wash the dishes".

Ways of avoiding the construction. There are several ways of avoiding "noun + -ing", such as:

  • Making the noun a possessive: "I object to his being there, or more formally, "I object to his presence (there)).
  • Using a more substantial rewording: "I object to the fact that he's there"; however, most folk would find this ungainly, and it's hard to go against that.
  • When the verbal noun is introduced using "with", as a clumsy connector with the previous text: ("We can't do much, with him being there".) Getting rid of "with" should be part of your rewording.
    • Here "with" is clumsy because it fails to clarify the relationship between the preceding and subsequent text that is being attempted to be linked: additive, contrastive or causal?
    • Sometimes the readers can work it out, although usually with a smidgeon of extra work;
    • Smetimes it's difficult or impossible to know, and you just slide over it with a slight sense of fuzziness.

More discussion here.


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A newspaper not known for good sub-editing. This example comes not from our article on the SMH, but direct from an opinion piece in the 28 August 2009 edition of the broadsheet.


If you have any questions, ask them now! Or would you like to take the test?