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Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a

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Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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Let’s start with a pop quiz, because we’re cruel like that.

Is the parallelism in this sentence correct?

  • Amber traveled the world, eating international cuisine and contracting tropical diseases.

We’ll say more about this sentence at the end of the post, but here’s a wrong answer that I often hear from newcomers to GMAT SC: the sentence is incorrect because “the three verbs are not parallel to each other.”

Whenever I hear that answer, I know that my student is assuming that “eating” and “contracting” are both verbs. And in most cases on the GMAT, those “-ing” words aren’t verbs at all – but it’s an easy mistake to make.

So what should you do whenever you see an “-ing” word on the GMAT? Well, that “-ing” word could serve any of four different purposes on the exam – and it’s probably not a verb.

Four uses of –ing words


1) “-ing” verbs (progressive tenses)


Sure, it’s possible for an –ing word to be a verb, but this usage is relatively rare on the GMAT. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Mike is surfing like a world champion today.
  • Mike was surfing when he realized that he truly, deeply loves the GMAT.

If you like jargon, you could say that both of these verbs are in the progressive tense. This family of verb tenses is used only to indicate an ongoing action.

Trouble is, this verb tense doesn’t appear very often on the GMAT. And more importantly, the “-ing” word can only be a verb if it is immediately preceded by some form of “to be.”

So in our original sentence, “Amber traveled the world, eating international cuisine and contracting tropical diseases”, the “-ing” words aren’t verbs at all, since they aren’t preceded by “to be.”

On to option #2:

2) “-ing” nouns (gerunds)


The second possibility for “-ing” words is that they can be used as nouns (also known as gerunds if you like grammar jargon). A couple of examples:

  • Surfing makes Mike happy.
  • Charles’s hobbies include eating.

In most cases, "-ing" nouns are easy to spot on the GMAT: they’re clearly either the subject or an object of the sentence. For the most part, these won’t cause you a whole lot of trouble on GMAT SC.

So let's move on to usage #3:

3) “-ing” modifiers, part I: participles



On the GMAT, “-ing” words are most often used as modifiers; if you like grammar jargon, feel free to call them participles. A few examples:

  • Walking through the forest, the pig happily hunted for truffles.
  • Laughing maniacally, the airline’s security personnel knocked a few teeth from Dr. Dao’s mouth.

In both cases, the phrase beginning with the “-ing” word modifies the entire clause that follows. In the first sentence, “walking through the forest” gives us extra information about what was happening when “the pig happily hunted for truffles.” Notice that the "-ing" modifier must "make sense" with the subject, too: it's reasonable to say that the pig is capable of walking through the forest.

The same is true of the (considerably less pleasant) second sentence: the modifier “laughing maniacally” gives us more information about the entire scene aboard a certain aircraft.

The GMAT’s favorite trap here is to give you a modifier that simply doesn’t make sense with the subject of the main clause. Here’s a fairly obvious example:

  • Walking through the forest, the mushrooms were colorful.

If we look at this strictly and literally, the sentence is saying that the mushrooms are walking through the forest. That’s fine if we’re playing Super Mario Brothers, but it doesn’t make sense on the GMAT.

Bottom line: when you see an “-ing” modifier (NOT a verb or a noun) at the beginning of the sentence, the GMAT is asking you to verify that it actually make sense with the subject of the clause that it modifies, even though the "-ing" word often modifies the entire clause. And you’ll see this over and over and over again on GMAT SC.

4) “-ing” modifiers, part II: adjectives


The fourth and final use of “-ing” words is that they can be nice, boring adjectives:

  • The man resembling Steve Buchemi has bad teeth.
  • The woman leading the meeting is the company’s CFO.

These aren’t terribly interesting, to be honest: in the first case, “resembling” just modifies the man, and in the second case, “leading” just modifies the woman. Adjectives… yawn.

But here’s the thing: if you aren’t careful, you can get tricked into making mistakes with these adjectives, particularly when parallelism is involved. Here’s an example, very loosely based on an official GMAT question:

  • The angry politician, frustrated by the opposition’s parliamentary tactics and screaming about the other parties’ unconstitutional behavior, is both a hypocrite and a narcissist.

A common error would be to say that “frustrated” and “screaming” aren’t parallel to each other, since they “don't sound the same” or because they “aren’t the same tense.” But “frustrated” and “screaming” are both adjectives that modify "the angry politician". So there’s no problem here at all.

And keep an eye on @souvik103990’s magnificent new Verbal Question of the Day series – you’ll see at least one example of this type of parallelism this week.

Back to our example


Remember this sentence?

  • Amber traveled the world, eating international cuisine and contracting tropical diseases.

By now, you know that “eating” and “contracting” aren’t verbs, since they don’t include any form of “to be.” And since they aren’t the subject or object of the sentence, they aren’t nouns, either. Clearly, we’re dealing with modifiers here -- and if you saw this on the actual exam, the GMAT would be asking you to verify that the modifiers actually make sense with the clause they modify.

And in this case, the modifiers seem fine: “eating international cuisine” and “contracting tropical diseases” are just giving us more information about Amber’s activities when she “traveled the world.”

Want more?


  • Here’s nice rundown of how “-ing” and “-ed words can be parallel to each other: https://gmatclub.com/forum/verb-ed-verb ... 26923.html
  • Here’s an older thread that focuses exclusively on “-ing” modifiers: https://gmatclub.com/forum/usage-of-ver ... 35220.html
  • Coming up in our next Topic of the Week: a rundown of the uses of “-ed” words on the GMAT. They’re awfully similar to “-ing” words, but with a few small twists.
  • Want to discuss exciting “-ing” words, scintillating “-ed” words, or other riveting GMAT verbal topics? Join us every Wednesday (8 am PST/8:30 am IST) for the verbal experts’ weekly chat.

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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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New post 08 May 2017, 12:03
Thank you GMATNinja.

Amazing topic.

Few queries:

1. Can we say that whenever gerunds act as a subject of the clause, they are always considered singular and would need a singular verb?

2. In the example: "The angry politician, frustrated by the opposition’s parliamentary tactics and screaming about the other parties’ unconstitutional behavior, is both a hypocrite and a narcissist."

can we deduce that - -> Since screaming is not preceded by an "be" form of the verb, hence it is an -ing modifier? Also, frustrated is not a verb in past tense but a -ed modifier?

3. What is the difference between gerunds and participles. We saw opening modifiers. Is that the only form?

Thanks in advance!

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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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Thank you, warriorguy! You inspired this one. Or at least the timing of it. :)

Quote:
1. Can we say that whenever gerunds act as a subject of the clause, they are always considered singular and would need a singular verb?


Correct, gerunds are always singular ("swimming is fun"). Though I suppose that you could have two gerunds as the subject of the sentence, forming a plural: "swimming and surfing are difficult."

Quote:
2. In the example: "The angry politician, frustrated by the opposition’s parliamentary tactics and screaming about the other parties’ unconstitutional behavior, is both a hypocrite and a narcissist."

can we deduce that - -> Since screaming is not preceded by an "be" form of the verb, hence it is an -ing modifier? Also, frustrated is not a verb in past tense but a -ed modifier?


Correct again. I'll cover "-ed" words in next Monday's Topic of the Week, but in this case, both "frustrated" and "screaming" are modifiers. Specifically, they're just adjectives (noun modifiers).

Quote:
3. What is the difference between gerunds and participles. We saw opening modifiers. Is that the only form?


Technically speaking, "gerund" is just a fancy word for an "-ing" word that functions as a noun. Think of a participle as an "-ing" word that functions as a modifier of some kind -- modifying either a noun or an entire clause. (I'm oversimplifying a little bit here, but that's the easiest way to think about it for GMAT SC purposes.)

And sure, you could see "-ing" modifiers almost anywhere in the sentence. Here's a somewhat nuanced example from one of last week's Questions of the Day: https://gmatclub.com/forum/qotd-naked-m ... 72-20.html.
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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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Quote:
Walking through the forest, the pig happily hunted for truffles.
Laughing maniacally, the airline’s security personnel knocked a few teeth from Dr. Dao’s mouth.

In both cases, the phrase beginning with the “-ing” word modifies the entire clause that follows. In the first sentence, “walking through the forest” gives us extra information about what was happening when “the pig happily hunted for truffles.” Notice that the "-ing" modifier must "make sense" with the subject, too: it's reasonable to say that the pig is capable of walking through the forest.


Hi GMATNinja

Don't you think in both the cases the opening ING modifier modifies the subject only (the pig and the airport security dude)? Sure it won't make sense isolated, but I was under the impression that opening modifiers HAVE to "only" modify the subject and that the subject has to lie right next to it.

BTW, I see what you did there with the airline personnel example! :D
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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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Quote:
Don't you think in both the cases the opening ING modifier modifies the subject only (the pig and the airport security dude)? Sure it won't make sense isolated, but I was under the impression that opening modifiers HAVE to "only" modify the subject and that the subject has to lie right next to it.


You're correct with that last part for sure: opening "-ing" or "-ed" modifiers MUST make sense with the subject, and the only thing they really NEED to modify is the subject itself. The "-ing" and "-ed" modifiers certainly can modify the entire clause, but that doesn't really matter much when you're solving GMAT SC questions. Either way, the modifier has to "make sense" with the subject -- and the correct answer won't really change based on whether the "-ing" modifies the entire clause or just the subject. So I guess it's a non-issue, practically speaking.

Quote:
BTW, I see what you did there with the airline personnel example! :D

:-D
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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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GMATNinja

In section 2, can we use "it" to refer to a gerund?

Thanks in advance!

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Sure, I don't see any reason why you couldn't use "it" to refer to a gerund. "Mike enjoys surfing, and it helps him stay fit" -- that seems OK to me. I can't think of tons of GMAT sentences that actually use "it" to refer back to a gerund, but it's completely fine.
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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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New post 30 Jul 2017, 00:25
Hi GMATNinja,

in the rule 3, you have spoken about ing words at the beginning of the sentence. Will the same rule apply if the ing clause were to be preceded by the main clause. If I were to swap the clauses in your example, will it still make sense?

The pig happily hunted for truffles, walking through the forest.

In this sentence is the relative clause modifying truffles or the entire preceding clause?

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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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New post 30 Oct 2017, 15:48
ameyaprabhu wrote:
Hi GMATNinja,

in the rule 3, you have spoken about ing words at the beginning of the sentence. Will the same rule apply if the ing clause were to be preceded by the main clause. If I were to swap the clauses in your example, will it still make sense?

The pig happily hunted for truffles, walking through the forest.

In this sentence is the relative clause modifying truffles or the entire preceding clause?

Really good question. I guess I have two different answers for that:

    1) The pig happily hunted for truffles, walking through the forest. --> This sounds a little bit funny to me, and I think the sentence is better with the modifier in the beginning, since the pig is the one doing the walking. But I don't think that this is wrong, either: the modifier "walking through the forest" seems to modify the entire clause without any real issue. So it's acceptable.

    2) In practice, we probably don't need to worry all that much about whether an "-ing" modifier is modifying a noun or an entire clause. I can't find very many official SC questions that manage to test that distinction. Sure, in my original example in part 3 ("Walking through the forest, the pig happily hunted for truffles"), I'd argue that the "-ing" modifier tells us more about the entire clause that follows. But if you think that "walking through the forest" only modifies "the pig", I can't imagine how it would cause you much trouble on the GMAT. The really important thing is that you don't fall into the trap of accepting something like "walking through the forest, the mushrooms looked tasty to the pig" as a correct answer, because the "-ing" modifier makes no sense at all with the subject ("mushrooms") in that case.

To summarize: yes, I think you can rearrange the order of the modifier and main clause from my original example, and that can be perfectly OK. And yes, "-ing" modifiers can modify entire clauses, or just a noun. But I don't think that it's worth losing much sleep over that last distinction.

I hope this helps!
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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a [#permalink]

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New post 02 Nov 2017, 16:53
GMATNinja

Can you help me here:

A -ing and -ed modifier without preceded by coma with always modify preceding noun?
How do I distinguish to select between two POE having each one in actual exam?

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Re: Experts’ Topic of the Week, 5/8/17: that “-ing” word probably isn’t a   [#permalink] 02 Nov 2017, 16:53
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