Correct use of a gerund?
November 4, 2011 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Grammar question about gerund use in a sentence. Should be an easy one.

I ate as much as I wanted, filling my plate twice before I got full.

Seems ungrammatical to me, but I can't articulate why. How exactly is the gerund phrase working in relation to the main clause?
posted by Cortes to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Filling" is not a gerund here, it's a participle.

Compare: "I ate as much as I wanted; filling my belly is my favorite pastime."
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:28 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: D'oh, thanks. That helps; mental lapse on my part. Verbal noun vs. verbal adjective.

So, if I'm understanding now: there's nothing wrong with it, grammatically, and "filling my plate..." is simply a participial phrase modifying the subject "I". Yes?
posted by Cortes at 3:37 PM on November 4, 2011

Does it seem ungrammatical in your immediate, unconscious opinion, or because you can't think of a rule you were taught in school that covers it? If the latter, don't worry about it. That sentence sounds fine to my native speaker ear.
posted by The Tensor at 3:43 PM on November 4, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, good question. It's more the second one. I'm trying to give a friend feedback on an application essay and he uses this construction several times. Short main clause, long participial phrase. (I made up the example sentence.) I was going to suggest that he change at least a couple of them, but then started wondering if it was even correct. I've probably been looking at it too long!
posted by Cortes at 3:51 PM on November 4, 2011

It might be that you're picking up something else that's wrong with his sentences. Or it might just be that you're picking up the awkwardness of using the same construction too frequently?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:08 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't like the use of the similar words, "filling" and "full" in the second phrase, and also don't much care for the slanginess of "got full."

I'd edit this to: "I ate as much as I wanted, filling my plate twice before I was satisfied/replete/content/glutted/satiated/sated."
posted by bearwife at 4:54 PM on November 4, 2011

Yeah, my guess is that it's something else about your friend's sentences that isn't working. One trap with participial clauses in formal writing is that you are meant to make sure that the semantic subject of the participle is the same as the grammatical subject of the main clause. Is it possible your friend has mismatched subjects?
posted by lollusc at 4:58 PM on November 4, 2011

Response by poster: lollusc, that's a good point and I think you may be right about the grammatical and semantic subjects being slightly mismatched in some of his sentences.

Thanks guys!
posted by Cortes at 5:21 PM on November 4, 2011

Best answer: What you've got is a cumulative sentence, the height of prose style in English for some, with many possible uses, elaborating, qualifying, or building on the main clause up front, adapted to the writer's needs, often as he discovers them, purposely or at random, like here - but hardly a mistake.
posted by 5Q7 at 5:52 PM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

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