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My teacher recently marked on my paper not to use a gerund to start a sentence. I have been told by teachers in the past to use that format to vary sentence structure. It seems to make the paper flow better oftentimes. An example:

Learning to confront his problems is an important part of [character's] growth and maturity in the novel.

Is there a grammar rule about this? I haven't ever heard/seen one before.

Edit: It would also be helpful to know of any good examples or arguments I would be able to use when discussing this.

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6 Answers 6

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Believing your teacher would be a mistake.  (Did you see what I just did?)

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    Hmm, would upvote,but that's just a comment as it stands! Oct 21, 2014 at 23:39
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    Answering with a comment is fine in this case. (Did you see what I just did?) Besides, how else would you prove the non-existence of a rule, other than with a counterexample? Oct 22, 2014 at 2:24
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    This answer is really a comment. Araucaria is correct. To be a genuine answer (as opposed to a comment) it would explain why it is okay to start a sentence with a gerund. Oct 22, 2014 at 5:12
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    @200_success but how do we know the counterexample isn't just as wrong? It breaks the exact same rule. Repetition of assertion is no proof.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 22, 2014 at 11:03
  • (...and as a personal aside, "did you see what I just did" is right up there with "pun intended".)
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 22, 2014 at 11:08
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Gerund as subject: Smoking is bad for your health.

See link http://www.grammaring.com/the-gerund-as-subject

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I completely agree that there is nothing grammatically wrong with starting a sentence with a gerund phrase; however, I do tell my AP students to avoid the construction because it almost always leads to the use of a linking verb, as is the case with the example. If we all agree that the use of action verbs is preferable, then the use of the gerund phrase as the subject of a sentence should be avoided. I often have students write (in a literary analysis), "By using the ..." I simply tell them to cross out the 'by' and use the participial phrase instead.

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I'd be a little careful about our poor teacher. I feel that the proposed examples don't illustrate the true gerund. In each case the gerund phrase was functionally used as a (compound) noun. The typical usages in a sentence would have one activity while another is happening at the same time.

(DISCLAIMER--I am not any expert nor a native English speaker).

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  • Like Swimming across the river, the crocodile approached ?
    – Neil W
    Oct 22, 2014 at 15:16
  • In which Swimming is not a gerund.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 22, 2014 at 16:53
  • Isn't a gerund, by definition, a noun? The Swimming here is an adjective, hence a participle. It is a swimming crocodile.
    – jobermark
    Oct 26, 2015 at 21:47
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The issue could be that you were committing logic errors with dangling modifiers. It is not all out "WRONG" to use a gerund at the start of the sentence. Many writers young and not so young, however, can mix up the meaning they are trying to convey if the sentence has more than one subject possibly tied to the gerund.

For example:
Running to the bus, Jillian saw her friend Tom
(or for that matter)
Jillian saw her friend Tom running to the bus.

The dangling modifiers above generate confusion. (Who was running to the bus?)
Both of the problematic forms could mean either:

(1) As she ran to the bus Jillian saw her friend Tom.
(as compared to)
(2) Jillian saw her friend Tom as he ran to the bus.

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  • Those aren't gerunds, they are participles.
    – jobermark
    Oct 26, 2015 at 21:51
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  1. The teacher was right. In the example, the initial gerund creates a poor sentence structure that needs to be improved by rephrasing. Do not use an initial gerund in such sentences. This is about writing style and readability.

  2. The teacher was wrong in not explaining that this is not about grammar, certainly not a rule.

**See our sister site [writers.se] **

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    Could you please clarify what "such sentences" are and why you think they are bad style? Oct 22, 2014 at 9:25
  • That's better dealt with on writers.se
    – Kris
    Oct 22, 2014 at 9:36
  • Although I think you're onto something because the OP teacher didn't say never start a sentence with a gerund. How would you improve the style of this sentence? Why does the gerund impede readability in this case?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 22, 2014 at 9:42
  • Sorry, but I don't see anything wrong with the sentence, including poor structure. Perhaps you should demonstrate an improvement by rephrasing? Oct 22, 2014 at 16:20
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    @erdekhayser I'm giving the teacher the benefit of the doubt. It could be that he/she didn't want you to start a sentence with learning on this occasion. I don't know.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 22, 2014 at 18:28

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