Re: Using a gerund phrase (a little off topic and long)

Subject: Re: Using a gerund phrase (a little off topic and long)
From: Sean Hower <hokumhome -at- freehomepage -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2001 11:45:06 -0800 (PST)


I don't mean to offend or step on any toes, but...

Jane wrote:
>>For an urban legend, it's very very prevalent.

I Just wanted to bring up the point that everyone "knows" that humans only use 10% of their brain. Everyone "knew" the world was flat. Neither are/were true, but many people still believe in their validity. Urban myths are pervasive precisely because people assume that if someone, or multiple someones, think it's true (especially if the source is a perceived authority), then it must be true. But it doesn't have to be. So don't believe everything you read. :)

In regard to the post about gerunds, I'd have to agree with Bruce on this one. As long as whatever you do is consistant and doesn't lend to further confusion, there shouldn't be a problem. In my linguistic studies, I don't think I ever came across anything about gerunds being an especially difficult aspect of ESL/EFL (as opposed to other equally difficult problems with English that is).

Besides, there could be problems with going out of our way to produce something that every possible user of our documentation will understand. For instance, some languages don't really use or need to use pronouns:

"Ikimasu" can mean: I go. He goes. You go. We go. They go. etc. You know who the subject of the sentence is based on the context. It is possible to say "Watashi wa ikimasu" which is "I go." but it's awkward.

"Ho ubriacato" vs "Io ho ubriacato" The verb "to be drunk" is conjugated to first person singular so the use of the pronoun is redundant. (This may or not be right, my Italian is a little rusty, so please bare with me.)

Other languages, such as Chinese, don't make a distinction between he and she (in Chinese, both are "ta").

Does that mean that we should rewrite documentation to exclude any mention of any kind of pronoun? We could, but I think the result would be more difficult to understand. I think the same goes for avoiding gerunds. The alternatives might be more difficult for our readers to grasp (epecially native English speakers). If you were to drop the use of pronouns, then what do you do for the readers who speak languages that need pronouns?

Besides, I have a feeling that anyone who is proficient enough in English to understand a technical manual would also be proficient enough in English to understand what the gerund form is all about. Of course, this is my opinion and I could be wrong. I've been wrong before, that's for sure. :)

My own personal preference is to use the gerund. I just think it's the clearest way to express what a procedural topic is about. When written, the gerund graphically depicts a topic's content from other possible content like reference material: for example "Delete Buttons" vs "Deleting Buttons." A person can guess that the content of these two topics is different based only on the -ing ending. So, even if someone has trouble understanding gerunds, as long as gerunds are used consistantly, our readers should be able to deduce its intended use without having to understand just what it means.

Sean Hower

technical writer

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