Can you spot the "nonstandard gerund"?
April 13, 2016 6:55 AM   Subscribe

In Ben Yagoda's The Sound On the Page, p.62, the following is written: "A nonstandard gerund at the end of sentences is an Elmore Leonard trademark. ('Today he watched from the wicker chair, the green shirt on the stick figure walking toward the road in the rain, still in the yard when Terry called to him.') So, what is he referring to as a "nonstandard gerund"? I don't see anything working gerundively.
posted by jwhite1979 to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
sorry about the omitted double quotation mark after the close-parenthesis.
posted by jwhite1979 at 7:03 AM on April 13, 2016

"Walking" is the gerund here. Normally it would be "stick figure who was walking," so perhaps leaving the "who was" out is what Yagoda means by nonstandard.
posted by willnot at 7:17 AM on April 13, 2016

But "... stick figure was walking" would make the green shirt the thing that's walking, not the stick figure. Since shirts normally do not walk, I think it's more natural to think of the stick figure wearing the shirt as the one walking.

Ah, nevermind "who was walking"....either I misread that or it was edited
posted by thelonius at 7:20 AM on April 13, 2016

But, but... Gerunds function as nouns, and "walking" is a participle, no? Please explain to me like I'm a five-year-old what's so noun-y about "walking toward the road".
posted by jwhite1979 at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2016

It looks to me like Yagoda just uses "gerund" (incorrectly) to refer to any word ending in -ing.

On this sample page if you search for "gerund" you'll find him using it to refer to another non-gerund "-ing" word:
I could change the verb to the past tense or the future or a gerund ("The boy is sitting..."— a small shift but a significant one)
posted by nobody at 7:38 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

You are right, walking is not a gerund but a participle here. I think the text is borked and you are right to be confused.
posted by drlith at 7:42 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh man, that's almost unforgivable in a book about writing. That's, like, the sixth error I've found so far. FWIW, though, the actual discussion is top-notch, even if the text is in dire need of a copy editor. (Odd, considering it's published by Harper.) Anyway, thanks for confirming my gut suspicion.
posted by jwhite1979 at 7:51 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah it’s confusing because I guess it uses "nonstandard gerund" to actually mean "participle clause"? It’s a "reduced relative clause" - I had to google because I was curious, as an ESL learner I don’t think I’ve ever come across the word gerund in an English practical grammar, it’s normally just referred to as the -ing form and it’s a relative clause here, and omitting the "who/that is/was" is very common so I was perplexed too.
posted by bitteschoen at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Haha, yeah, I guess "nonstandard gerund" is true, as it's definitely not the standard gerund. "Not a gerund at all" is another way to say it. Nthing the others that there's nothing gerund-y in that sentence, and agreeing with the OP that it's kind of unforgiveable.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:00 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, he has profoundly misunderstood what a gerund is. It's fairly common for English professors and journalists to know very little about grammar or linguistics, in my experience, even (or perhaps especially) when they are making pronouncements on matters of grammar and linguistics. See also: virtually every piece ever written about "passive voice."
posted by wintersweet at 8:04 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, the people who believe everything ending in -ly is an adverb.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:12 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

...but it's not nonstandard nor even at the end of the sentence. (And the fact that he can't distinguish a progressive verb form from other forms ending in -ing doesn't argue well for him.) Really not sure what is going on there!
posted by praemunire at 9:52 AM on April 13, 2016

ubiquity is right that the gerund/participle distinction isn't generally agreed on anymore, but Yagoda is still wrong to call this a "gerund"; the term used by e.g. the Cambridge Grammar to refer to this multi-purpose form is (wait for it) "gerund-participle".
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

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