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While / When -ing

Express time-related activities with reduced clauses

A smelly skunk

 

 

Reduce time-related clauses (temporal phrases)

FINITE (FULL) CLAUSE

A temporal preposition such as before, after, when, while or since can be added to the main clause to relate the timing of a second activity. The phrase may take a finite (full) clause or a nonfinite (reduced) gerund clause as its complement.                                    

MAIN CLAUSE TEMPORAL PHRASE
SUBJECT IS MODIFIED PREP + CLAUSE

Jack saw a skunk
look up 

while he was walking outside.
           look up 
(same subject)

Jack stopped

when he spotted it.

Jack waited a short time

before he continued on.

Jack still smelled the skunk

after he passed the area.

Jack has been taking a new

since he saw a skunk there.

OBJECT IS MODIFIED PREP + CLAUSE

Jack saw a skunk
                    look up 

while it was digging up grass.
         look up 
("it" refers to the skunk)

NONFINITE (REDUCED) CLAUSE

The clause following before, after, when, while or since may be reduced (changed from a finite to a nonfinite gerund clause) if the subject of both clauses is the same. (Make this change only if important information is not lost and the reference remains clear.¹)

MAIN CLAUSE TEMPORAL PHRASE
SUBJECT IS MODIFIED PREP + GERUND CLAUSE

Jack saw a skunk

while walking outside.
look up
understood as Jack was walking

Jack stopped

when spotting it.

Jack waited a while

before continuing on.

Jack could still smell the skunk

after passing through the area.

Jack has been taking a different way home

since seeing a skunk there.

OBJECT IS MODIFIED PREP + GERUND CLAUSE

Jack saw a skunk
                    look up 

while digging up grass.
look up
¹unclear modifier—Jack or the skunk?

 

spot (V) – notice, identify, recognize

¹unclear reference or misrelated modifier — See Misrelated Modifiers.

adjuncts are words, phrases or clauses that add optional information about manner, degree, frequency, timing, and location of the activity or action. Adjuncts are mostly modifiers. (e.g., adverbs, some prep phrases, some modifiers)  See Adjuncts.

complement (N) — in grammar, a word, phrase or clause that completes the meaning of another element in the clause. In some cases, the complement is required in order to make sense. In other cases, the complement is not absolutely required but adds important modifying and identifying information For example, the verb see requires an object complement. John saw __(?)__.    See Complement or Prepositional Complements.

temporal (Adj) – relating to the timing of an activity or action

Also see When/While (not reduced), Finite v. Nonfinite, Phrase v. Clause.

See Grammar Notes for terms.  (These words are also called adverbials or conjunctions in some grammar systems.)

 

 

 

 

Reduced Clauses

Initial vs. Final Position

 

 

Positioning the phrase before vs after the main clause

INITIAL

commaThe prepositional phrase can be moved in front of the main clause for emphasis. A comma is placed after it.

TEMPORAL PHRASE MAIN CLAUSE

While walking home, (same)

Jack came across an animal.

When spotting the animal(1st)

he stopped.  (2nd)

Upon seeing a skunk(1st)

he turned around.  (2nd)

Before continuing on, (2nd)

he waited a short time. (1st)

After passing the area,

he could till smell the skunk.

Since seeing a skunk there,

he has been taking a new way home.

FINAL

no commaNo comma is used when the prepositional phrase is placed after the main clause.                                                     

MAIN CLAUSE TEMPORAL PHRASE

Jack came across an animal

while walking home.

He stopped

when spotting the animal.

He stopped

upon seeing a skunk.

He waited a short time

before continuing on.

He could still smell the skunk

after passing the area.

He has been taking a different way home

since seeing a skunk there.

 

came across – met my chance
upon – when

 

 

 

 

 

Reduced Clauses

Omitting When, While or Upon

dog coming indoors
 

Omitting when, while  and upon

WHEN / WHILE INCLUDED

A prepositional phrase with when or while can be placed directly before the subject noun (the person doing the action) in the main clause. The temporal (time-related) phrase is understood as a modifier to the closest noun in the main clause—the subject.

MODIFIER MAIN CLAUSE
TIME-RELATED REDUCED CLS SUBJECT IS MODIFIED

 When arriving home
   modifies Jack
   modifies Jack  

Jack greets his dog.    

While getting a drink of water

Jack watches his dog.    

Upon bringing in his dog

Jack wipes its paws.    

WHEN / WHILE OMITTED

While or when can be omitted only if it is clear who or what the modifying phrase refers to. Position the nonfinite clause next to the noun it modifies. The same-time relationship will be understood from the context.                                                    

MODIFIER MAIN CLAUSE
GERUND CLS SUBJECT IS MODIFIED

Arriving home,
   modifying clause
   modifies Jack

Jack greets his dog.

 

Getting a drink of water,

Jack watches his dog 

Bringing in his dog,

Jack wipes its paws.    

 

*Yellow highlighting indicates example of incorrect usage.

(Upon means when.)

Related page Clause

 

 

 

 

 
SUBJECT MODIFIER

A when, while or upon modifying phrase placed after the main clause is still understood as modifying the subject noun.

MAIN CLAUSE MODIFIER TO SUBJ

Jack greets his dog

when arriving home.
(understood–modifies Jack)

Jack watches his dog

while getting a drink of water.
(understood–modifies Jack)

Jack wipes his feet

upon entering the house.
(understood–modifies Jack)

OBJECT MODIFIER

Removing when, while or upon from the modifying phrase may result in confusion. It is unclear which noun the modifier refers to!

MAIN CLAUSE MODIFIER TO SUBJ or OBJ?

Jack greets his dog

*arriving home. 
(Jack or the dog?)

Jack watches his dog

getting a drink of water.
(Jack or the dog?)

Jack wipes his feet

entering the house.
(understood–modifies Jack)

 

*Better placement: Arriving home, Jack greets his dog. /  Jack, arriving home, greets his dog.  Place the modifier directly before or after the noun to help clarify the reference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reduced Clauses

Omitting After

door locked
 

 

Expressing an earlier time in a reduced clause

WHEN / WHILE INCLUDED

After is included in a reduced clause to express an earlier time frame than that of the main clause.  No change to the (nonfinite) verb form is required.

MODIFIER MAIN CLAUSE
SAME-TIME SUBJECT IS MODIFIED

After being burglarized,   

Anne is very cautious.

After closing the windows,   

Anne locked the front door.

After setting the alarm,

Anne locked the front door. 

REDUCED

After can be omitted from a modifying clause. However, the earlier time is then expressed in the form of the verb—a past participle. Past Nonfinite.

MODIFIER MAIN CLAUSE
EARLIER SUBJECT IS MODIFIED

Having been burglarized,   

Anne is very cautious.

Having closed the windows,

Anne locked the front door.

Having set the alarm,

Anne locked the front door.. 

 

burglarize (V) – break in and steal from

cautious (Adj) – careful

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*Before taking a driving course, his father told his son to be careful.

Who is taking the driving course? 

*Unfortunately, the ball hit Jack in the back of the head while running.  

Who was running – the ball or Jack? 

We stopped hearing the police siren

(Unclear – this means we were no longer hearing the sound.)

SOLUTION

Before the son took a driving course, his father told him to be careful.

Do not use a reduced clause if it is not clear who is doing the action in it.

Unfortunately, the ball hit Jack in the back of the head while Jack was running. (Restate the subject.)

Unfortunately, Jack was hit  in the back of the head while [he was] running.

(Reword the sentence with Jack as the subject of the main clause.)  

We stopped when we heard the police siren.

We stopped being able to hear the police siren. (no longer able)

 

*Yellow highlighting indicates example of incorrect usage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

► Show Grammar Notes and Works Cited ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

 

 

"Adverbial Clauses" vs. "Temporal Location Expressions"

PAST GRAMMAR

Adverbial Clauses 

In traditional grammar while, when, before, after, an since are conjunctions which join an adverb clause to an independent clause. The term adverbial clause is used because the clause adds time-related information about the verb and answers the question When? This added-on structure is called a dependent clause because it can not stand alone as a sentence.

 

Swan (2009) refers to while, when, before, after, and since as conjunctions. (30.1)

Azar & Hagen call these adverbial clauses or "time clauses" with no mention of a term for the connector. It is not clear whether while, when, before, after, and since are adverbs or conjunctions.   "A time clause begins with such words as when, before after, as soon as, until, and while and includes a subjects and a verb.  The time clause can come either at the beginning of the sentence or in the second part of the sentence…" (4-3, Adverb clauses 17-2; Reduction  18-1)

Quirk & Greenbaum (1989) place while, when, before, after, and since in the class of conjunction.  They function as subordinators of adjunct clauses that express time-relationship. (8.53)
 

CURRENT GRAMMAR

Temporal Location Expressions 

In current linguistic analysis—while, when, before, after, and since —have been re-classified into the category of preposition. Each of these temporal expressions takes a finite clause or nonfinite clause as its complement.  

  • Preposition (PP) + finite clause—John saw a skunk while he was walking home.
  • Preposition (PP) + nonfinite clause—John saw a skunk while walking home. [gerund-participle]
  • Before or after additionally takes a noun phrase as its complement.
  • Preposition (PP) + noun (NP)—John smelled the skunk before the sighting. John saw the skunk before us.

(Note that a Preposition is not limited to a noun complement. In fact, it may take a number of structures as its complement. Prep Complements)

Huddleston & Pullum (2009) have re-assigned a large number of items previously analyzed as adverbs after, as, as soon as, before, once, since while, and when to the class of Preposition.  The preposition is the head of the prepositional phrase (PP) which can be complemented by a noun phrase or a clause with a subject and a verb, or a clause with a gerund-participle.  (612-7)
Also see " Nonfinite clauses as modifiers and supplements"  (1265-6)

The structure is called an adjunct because it is not required by the verb to complete the sentence. It adds additional information.

  • Complement—John saw a skunk.  ["a skunk" is required to complete the verb]
  • Adjunct— John saw a skunk while we were walking.  [the prepositional phrase is an "add on", extra information]
 

Works Cited

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
  • Quirk, Randolph and Sidney Greenbaum. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. 7th ed., Longman Group, 1989.

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Same-time Events

Counting Sheep
 

Shorten the clause to a modifying clause if possible. 

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 1-10" button.

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.


(No comma)

10.

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Verb Forms in Modifying Clauses

a pulled muscle
 

Decide on the verb form that should be used in the reduced clause.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 11-16" button.

 

11.

 
a pulled muscle (N) – an injury to a muscle caused by over-use

12.
stretching out

stretch out (V) – extend muscles in body

13.


elliptical machine (N) – a machine for exercising

14.

15.

16.


injure (V) – hurt