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I saw these lines in a children's book today:

The tourists gathered around the lake, taking photographs of the wildlife in the area.

The cat sat itself down on the veranda, stretching its lazy body.

It seems like both sentences can be modified to become more "parallel".

The tourists gathered around the lake to take photographs of the wildlife in the area.

The cat sat itself down on the veranda and stretched its lazy body.

Is there any particular reason why the original sentences are structured the way they are? Is there a formal name for this sentence structure?

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    At least the first sentence has its meaning changed with the "new structure." And the second, as well, in a way. Please check. – Kris Feb 6 '14 at 14:32
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The "ing ..." construction is called a "participle phrase", as denoted by the use of the participle form of the verb. Most often, it is used to indicate simultaneous actions:

The tourists gathered around the lake, taking photographs of the wildlife in the area.

The tourists took pictures of wildlife at the same time as they gathered around the lake.

The cat sat itself down on the veranda, stretching its lazy body.

The cat stretched its lazy body at the same time as it sat on the veranda.

Your revisions change the simultaneous actions to consecutive actions:

The tourists gathered around the lake to take photographs of the wildlife in the area.

The tourists gathered around the lake for the purpose of taking photographs (but no one has actually taken any yet).

The cat sat itself down on the veranda and stretched its lazy body.

The cat sat on the veranda and then stretched (after it was already sitting).


Keep in mind that there are certainly times when you want to avoid the participle construction, because simultaneous action is not what you want to imply:

Putting on his pants, Jim ran to open the door.

The implication is that Jim is running and putting on pants at the same time, which is probably not the intent of the writer. In this case, a revision similar to the ones you suggest is definitely in order:

Jim put on his pants and ran to open the door.

The two actions happen in sequence, which doesn't leave Jim hopping across the room trying to pull up pants while running. :)

  • This is most helpful! Thank you so much for the lesson! : ) – Nekoko Feb 6 '14 at 14:41
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The tourists gathered around the lake to take photographs of the wildlife in the area.

You don't know that from the first sentence.

The first sentence tells us that they gathered around the lake, and that they took photographs while they did so. Maybe they were gathering around the lake to see a regatta and then took advantage of the opportunity to photograph wildlife while they were there. Maybe they each had different motives. Maybe they actually stopped taking photographs once they reached the lake.

This sentence is not equivalent to the first, because the first does not ascribe a motive or purpose.

The cat sat itself down on the veranda and stretched its lazy body.

Maybe in the first sentence, the cat stretched its lazy body in the act of sitting down, rather than as a subsequent action.

In each case, the change comes because you've stopped using the continuous aspect (or the progressive aspect; English doesn't distinguish between them), and in trying to force it back into a sentence either ended up suggesting motivation (because you've joined the clauses with to) or a temporal sequence of events (because you've joined the clauses with and).

This could be an improvement, or have made the sentences worse; I'd have to have seen the cat before I could opine on that.

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This sounds like the closest thing I've seen yet to the application of feng shui to the English language. It has clearly taken a Japanese person to point out the possibilities! I do agree that your revision sounds better, no doubt creating more ambiance and harmony!

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    Unfortunately, the revisions change the meaning of both sentences. – Roger Feb 6 '14 at 14:24
  • @Roger Yes. So that's not a "new structure". – Kris Feb 6 '14 at 14:34
  • WS2, You might have meant that to be a comment. – Kris Feb 6 '14 at 14:35
  • @Kris. Sorry I didn't notice the change to the first sentence. It clearly does change the meaning. But I don't really think the meaning of the second one alters sufficiently to make any difference. In any case Nekoko will not be the first to have modified a meaning for the sake of rhyme or iambic pentameter. Poets must do it all the time. – WS2 Feb 6 '14 at 14:48

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