Re: Why Gerunds?

Subject: Re: Why Gerunds?
From: Daniel Klotz <danielklotz -at- juno -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 05 Apr 2006 13:57:38 -0400

Joe Malin wrote:

I wonder if it's because a gerund yields a nominative phrase:

"Creating A Document" as in

Creating a document is a basic task you must learn.

"Create A Document" seems to be a sentence, as in

Create a document. Next, edit the title.

One might use the phrase

"To Create a Document", which from my naïve understanding of grammar seems like it starts with an infinitive, as in

"To create a document, select File > New". I have no idea whatsoever what part of speech "To create a document" is (and why do we call it a part of speech when it's written?) but it looks like an adverb modifying "select". Someone help me out here!

So I like gerunds the best since they're *things* rather than *actions* or *modifiers*.

These are really good thoughts, a perspective no one else has brought up.

In the sentence you give, "To create a document" works as an
introductory infinitive phrase. And infinitives are verbals just like
gerunds, so we're still talking oranges and oranges, which is good. In
this case, the infinitive phrase takes on the role of an adverb,
although infinitive phrases can fill more roles than either gerunds
(nouns) or participles (adjectives). Infinitives can be nouns (to write
is devine), adjectives (I have a book to write), or adverbs (I write to
earn money).

Grammatically, "To create a document, select File > New" could be
rewritten "Select File > New to create a document" without changing any
roles of words or phrases.

In that way, I kind of like the infinitive suggestion. "What's all this
text? It's an explanation of what you do *to create a new file.*"
However, English has this annoying way of the infinitive verbs all
carrying that "to" in front of them, and I'd much rather see the key
word first in a heading.

That's why gerunds tend to work well. "What's all this text? It's an
explanation of a process: *creating a new document.*"

Because gerunds can only be nouns, it also helps us see where and why a
gerund should not be used. As others have stated, when you introduce a
new concept or premise, "introduction" and "overview" come in handy.
Throughout most of a manual, *processes* are being explained. But at
certain points, introductions and overviews are being given. It's
helpful to let the reader know that something different is going on.
You're not explaining a process (e.g., "understanding quizzots") but
rather you are providing context for the processes you're about to
explain. And ain't it grand that in English we have words for something
that provides contextual information? ("Introduction" or "Overview,"



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