0

I'm a non-native speaker of English, so this might or might not be something very basic. Nonetheless, it's baffling me and I'd love some help.

A friend of mine wrote this sentence in a story for which I'm a pre-reader:

They crossed a highway along the river shore and then a bridge, leading them to a dirt road winding down a thin peninsula that jutted into the river.

In my mind, based on how my native Portuguese phrases things, I felt that "leading" gerund there could be replaced by the determiner plus simple past "what led", and the phrase would "sound" better:

They crossed a highway along the river shore and then a bridge, what led them to a dirt road winding down a thin peninsula that jutted into the river.

The "what" in there is supposedly a determiner referring to and meaning the whole of "They crossed a highway along the river shore and then a bridge".

However he told me, and I quote him, "your suggestion in this case would cause the sentence to make absolutely no grammatical sense whatsoever."

I'd like to understand why that's the case, what the exact rules are, and whether there's a correct way to do a gerund to simple past conversion in this and similar cases.

Thank you very much!

  • the first sentence only makes sense if 'them' does not reference the same entity as 'they', the second would make sense if you were to replace 'what' by 'which' or 'that' – msam Apr 3 '14 at 13:35
  • 1
    @msam "Them" and "they" refer to three characters walking. Why wouldn't the first sentence make sense in this case? – alexgieg Apr 3 '14 at 14:16
  • "my dog jumped over your dog, barking loudly" - my dog is barking loudly, not yours. Similarly in the first sentence "they" are "leading" "them", if you want to say that the bridge was leading them use which/that (look up relative clauses for more info on which/that) - "my dog jumped over your dog, which was barking loudly" – msam Apr 3 '14 at 14:36
  • Why do you think leading is a gerund (noun form)and not a participle (adjective form)? – bib Apr 3 '14 at 14:49
  • @bib I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to these terms. If you could explain the difference or point to a good source for me to learn I'd be very grateful. – alexgieg Apr 3 '14 at 17:19
0

As a general point, in English we would say 'which led' or 'that led', but not 'what led'.

Both sentences make grammatical sense (if you replace 'what' with 'which'). The problem lies with uncertainty about what is doing the leading.

They crossed a highway along the river shore and then a bridge, which led them to a dirt road winding down a thin peninsula that jutted into the river.

This implies that the bridge led them directly to a dirt road.

They crossed a highway along the river shore and then a bridge, leading them to a dirt road winding down a thin peninsula that jutted into the river.

This implies that their whole journey, crossing the highway and a bridge, ultimately led to a dirt road.

Grammatically it's OK. The problem I have with it is actually visualising it. 'Crossed a highway' means goes from one side of it to the other. If you cross a highway along the river shore you are either crossing from land down to the river, or coming from the river and crossing onto land. Then you cross a bridge, which is presumably over the river but necessarily so. It would make more sense to say they went along a highway by the river shore and crossed a bridge which led to a dirt road.

  • 1
    Ah, I see. Is there a difference between 'that' and 'which' here, or both mean the exact same thing? Regarding visualizing, from the context what happens is this: three characters on foot are waiting in front of a highway for the pedestrian traffic signal to open. The signal opens, the characters cross the highway from one sidewalk to the next in the direction of the river, then continue walking over the bridge there then reaching the other shore of the river, where the path continues as a dirt road etc. – alexgieg Apr 3 '14 at 14:11
  • 'Which' and 'that' are both commonly used. As for the rest, in the original sentence the main verb there is 'crossed', which is saying this: "They crossed [a highway along the river shore and then a bridge] ..." ie it sounds as if the highway runs along the river shore. You can cross a highway and a bridge but you can't cross along a river shore. Is it vital that the reader understands the exact layout of road/river/bridge (eg evidence in a detective story)? "They crossed a highway and went along the river shore, over a bridge, leading them..." – Mynamite Apr 3 '14 at 14:34
  • 1
    There is a difference between "that" and "which". Saying "They crossed a highway and then a bridge, which led them to a dirt road" means that their journey across that highway and bridge led them to the dirt road. "They crossed a highway and then a bridge that led them to a dirt road" means that the bridge led them to a dirt road. "They crossed a highway and then a bridge, that led them to a dirt road" is just wrong. – andi Apr 3 '14 at 15:42
  • @andi Nice! End result then: taking into consideration all the comments, the most correct version is the one with "which". – alexgieg Apr 3 '14 at 17:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.