Gerunds and Present Participles

November 8, 2009

So, a few weeks ago I got a promotion at work. Normally, I would be excited about something like this. But in these times of “The Great Recession” a promotion basically means more responsibility, increased stress and no pay increase. Actually, just a few days after said promotion, my company announced that they were slashing everyone’s salaries for the second time this year so we could “keep our head above the water”. So, not only did I not get a pay increase with my promotion, my salary was actually decreased to less than I was making when I was twenty-four years old. Sad, but true.

But one positive aspect about my promotion was that I am able to have more interaction with clients. I spend most of my day on the telephone assuring clients that green is the appropriate color to use in their bathroom and that, contradictory to what they might have read in Architectural Digest, Rococo is not coming back into vogue. When not on the phone, I’m normally in meetings with local and state code officials and engineers.

There is a long understanding between architects and engineers that we don’t like each other. This is not really the case. The problem between architects and engineers is that architects have personalities and engineers do not. Engineers usually have the social graces of a rhinoceros, the style of an out-of-work pimp and the design sensibility of Helen Keller. But the point of this is not to blast engineers; that will have to wait for another day. Though the person I’m about to speak of is an engineer.

So, I’m in a meeting the other day with my client, some stupid code official who thinks his job is like, the most important thing on the face of the earth and a structural engineer. If you don’t know what a structural engineer does; they make sure the beautiful buildings that architects design don’t fall down. They also usually try to dumb down our designs, putting the fear of God into our clients that what we’ve designed will cost too much, blah, blah, blah.

After I gave my little introduction to the project and our approach, I asked the structural engineer to give their feedback and tell the client and code official what system was going to be used and all that other boring crap that engineers pop a woody talking about. I sat back, ready to zone out, when he began to speak.

“We were thinkin about designin the project with a series of steel columns and scissor trusses. Workin with steel can be expensive and we’ve been talkin to the architect about an alternative.” Had my ears deceived me or did he just remove the “g” from all his gerunds and present participles? I sat there in a total grammar nightmare and counted the number of times he spoke a word ending with an “ing” and how many times he just didn’t pronounce the “g”. In total he uttered twenty-seven gerunds and present participles and only once did he say it correctly. And it wasn’t even on a real word. He said structuring.

Throughout his entire non-g-ending presentation, I couldn’t help but remember my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Clepper. Mrs. Clepper was one of those rare teachers that, after twenty-five years teaching, still loved what she did and truly appreciated every one of her students for their individual talents. But one thing that she could not accept was improper use of the English language. Whenever anyone would ask “Can I go to the bathroom?” she would respond “I don’t know, can you?” And when anyone would ask “What’s that for?” her canned response would be “For to make kitten mittens. Would you like a pair?” No one every quite figured out the meaning of what she was saying, but we all learned not to end a sentence with a preposition.

But nothing enraged Mrs. Clepper more than someone cut off the end of a word. Whenever a student would answer a question with “Yeah.” she would stop dead in her tracks, turn around and say “It’s yesssssssss.” emphasizing the “s” sound as if she were a rattle snake ready to attack. And when any of us removed the “g” from a gerund or present participle, she would look around the room, under our desks, even in her purse asking “Has anyone seen any g’s? I know they’re around here somewhere.”

When the structural engineer finally finished speaking and my ears stopped bleeding, he turned to me and asked “Based on that, what are you guys thinkin?” Still stuck in my mindset of fifth grade and remembering all the wonderful grammar tools Mrs. Clepper taught me so long ago, I looked under the table and said “I’m just looking for the g’s?” Befuddled, everyone in the room looked at me, their mouths open, their brows furrowed with confusion. “Excuse me?” the client asked. Realizing that I had just audibly spoken what I thought was my inner monologue; I panicked and rearranged the set of drawings in front of me. “I meant, I’m just looking for the list of needs you gave me that you wanted included in the building.” Thankfully, my cover up worked and we spent the rest of the meeting talking about the two light fixtures the client had seen in some hotel in Brussels that he wanted recreated in his dining room.

Why is it that so many people hold such a disregard for the English language? In the case of my structural engineer, it’s certainly not because he was unintelligent. It takes a lot of work and some major brain power to design structural systems. Could it be that he was lazy? Does it just require too many face and mouth muscles to add that one extra letter to the end of so many words? At first I thought it might a regional dialect, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve listened very carefully to co-workers, friends and family from all different geographic backgrounds, and some people end their gerunds and present participles with g’s and other just don’t.

I know it shouldn’t, but this quest to find the origin of why people do this is actually starting to keep me up at night. Maybe it’s pod people, and after they take over our bodies, the only way they can recognize one another is by not pronouncing g’s at the end of their words. Maybe it’s some sort of associative disorder that some people have with the sound of the letter g when it’s at the end of a word. If that is the case, I want that disorder named after me. They can call it the Michael syndrome.

My advice to all you people out there who think that it’s okay to bastardize the English language and not pronounce the “g” at the end of your gerunds and present participles:

– Pronounce every letter in every word of every sentence that you speak unless, of course, the letter is silent.

– Go back to grade school and learn basic grammar. If you have children, maybe they can teach you.

– The way you talk is distracting and, most likely, detracts people away from what you’re really trying to communicate. Notice if people seem distant when you talk to them. It’s probably not because what you’re saying is boring, they’re probably just having a conversation with themselves trying to understand why you sound like such an idiot when you talk.

My advice to everyone else:

– Look up that teacher, like Mrs. Clepper, who taught you how to properly express the beauty of the English language and thank them for helping you not sound like a total imbecile when you speak. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.


7 Responses to “Gerunds and Present Participles”

  1. marsha Says:

    God bless Mrs Cleppar, The tuition was worth every penny. xoxo mom

  2. Lauren Says:

    OMG… My 6th grade grammar teacher. Mrs. Summers, is your Mrs. Clepper! “May I…” most definitely! We’re working on our kids’ manners just the same… “May I please…” No “Can I’s” here!

    • mnkey75 Says:

      It’s never too early to start teaching your children proper grammar. I’m sure Mrs. Summers would be very proud of you.

  3. Eric Says:

    My 6th grade grammar teacher was Ms. Romano – a self-professed cheesecake lover that left the classroom often to use the restroom and, to our delight as 6th graders, caused vibrations in the classroom floor that told you that she was returning from the bathroom. No joke, she shook the floors of our grade school when she walked down the halls.

    She did, however, turn me into a grammar nazi – and made me inexplicably love diagramming sentences. I was the best in my class. In my 6th grader mind, I was convinced that she was determined to stump me with the most complex of sentences, and I would get strangely amped up with the challenge of showing her that no complex set of words could beat me, even if I had to use 3 chalkboards to do it.

  4. […] I’ve already highlighted some of the tensions between architects and engineer is “Gerunds and Present Participles“, but let me expand on that. Architects and engineers are step children. Sure, we have the […]

  5. […] all native Southerners (for the relationship dynamic between architects and engineers, read Gerunds and Present Participles). Out of the blue and with no warning, one of them haucked a huge phlegm globber and spat it right […]

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