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I have trouble with an SAT grammar question:

  1. The delegates coming this far, they did not want to return without accomplishing something.

I got it down to 2 choices:

  • (B) Coming this far, the delegates felt they
  • (C) Having come this far, the delegates

The correct answer is (C); however, I do not understand the differences between (B) and (C).

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    "Coming this far" is (I believe) present-tense. "Having come this far" is past tense, and therefore more consistent with the past-tense that "the delegates felt" is in. Tense is not my strong suit, but I believe this is correct. – Zibbobz Aug 27 '13 at 19:54
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    This is less an answer and more an SAT technique, but try rewriting them as "The delegates, having come this far,..." or "The delegates, coming this far,..." That should make it clear which is the correct choice. – Amory Aug 27 '13 at 19:59
  • It seems to me this is really a question about the whims of your SAT examiners than a question about actual English. In terms of the language at large, either (B) or (C) is grammatical, and the choice would depend on the exact nuance of what you're trying to say. – Neil Coffey Aug 27 '13 at 20:31
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    @Amory But even in your re-written versions, both versions are grammatical. I'm not sure what this "technique" really helps with... – Neil Coffey Aug 27 '13 at 20:41
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    @NeilCoffey I don't think the first example is grammatical. What do you base this claim on? I think that tense agreement alone would militate against B being correct. – Cyberherbalist Aug 27 '13 at 21:07
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The relevant distinction between the two participial adjuncts is in the specification of aspect. Having come this far... is marked for perfect aspect. The perfect is used to indicate an event having occurred prior to some reference time (whether this reference time is at the time of speaking, or at some focal point in the past or future) as having continuing relevance. Perfect aspect is marked in English with the auxiliary verb have.

The other adjunct, Coming this far..., is not marked for aspect, so there is no grammatical indication as to whether the event is complete, ongoing, or yet to be undertaken. The default interpretation is that the event is ongoing when you use present participle adjunct without perfect marking.

In deciding which sentence is best you need to consider the functional motivation in choosing to use perfect aspect versus leaving the aspect unspecified. If you want your adjunct to point out a past event with continuing relevance to the main event you are describing, the perfect aspect is preferred. If you want to refer to an event, but its temporal relation to the main event you are describing is not too important, then you don't use the perfect.

The first choice is preferred because the fact that the delegates have already "come far" is relevant to their feeling of wanting to accomplish at least something. The aspectually unmarked adjunct would be preferable in the case where the main event was somehow framed by the event depicted in the adjunct. e.g.,

Coming this far, the delegates made many friendships and alliances amongst themselves.

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"The delegates coming this far" is a noun phrase. The error is exactly the same as if you said "John, he didn't want to go home."

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