It’s always a good idea to let other people, especially editors, review and critique one’s writing. I’m no exception; one of my recent pieces received a good thrashing. Although the thrashing was done in the kindest of ways, it still smarted a little. Some of the points were things I know and try to follow. For instance, I know to use active verbs – they make for stronger writing – but, for some reason, progressive verbs plagued this particular piece. I felt ashamed and vowed to do better in the future.
Progressive verbs are tricky because they sound nice, and they perform a function: they indicate an action in progress. Unfortunately, too many progressive verb phrases in a row tend to slow the action. Progressive verbs, just like passive verbs, are allowed. They even are necessary at times. It’s simply that they should be used sparingly because they may not be the best way to word something.
Progressive verbs consist of a form of “be” and a present participle of the main verb. The verb “be” has several forms: be, being, been, am, is, are, was, and were. Such verbs are red flags, especially when they are accompanied by present participles. Present participles are easy to identify; they end in an -ing: loping, napping, murmuring, et cetera.
Progressive verbs can be replaced with either the present tense or the past tense of the main verb. It depends on whether the action is occurring now or in the past. It also is determined by the tense in which a post or article is being written. If the words in the preceding paragraph are combined into progressive verbs, the results are:
Jeremy is loping across the yard.
The cat was napping in the windowsill.
She was murmuring to her baby.
Nothing is quote-on-quote wrong with those sentences, but they aren’t very strong. It might be better to edit the progressive verbs to create these possibilities:
Jeremy lopes/loped across the yard.
The cat naps/napped in the windowsill.
She murmured/murmurs to her baby.
Again, choosing which verb or verb phrase to use is dependent upon the context. It doesn’t hurt, though, to read one’s work closely and to watch for progressive verbs. It could save the work from a thrashing.