What is the difference between using the past tense and the present participle, since both sentences indicate the speaker witnessed the action of the ticket being dropped?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, user66974, RegDwigнt May 28 '14 at 20:27

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  • I think this is General Reference for ELU, and should be migrated to English Language Learners. Alex - in most contexts they're effectively equivalent, but simple past is obviously more common since it's simpler. In some contexts "I saw him write the ticket" might be taken to imply you were watching throughout entire process, through to completion. And "I saw him writing the ticket" might simply mean you saw him engaged in part of the process. Consider I watched her cook/cooking the dinner for a clearer example. – FumbleFingers May 28 '14 at 17:05
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    There's an ongoing argument about it on Quora, and I was seeking vindication. I believe that either usage is correct, and that the present participle is used simply to add emphasis that you witnessed the act. Another person disagrees and states that using the present participle is always incorrect. – Alex May 28 '14 at 17:12
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    Is the person who thinks using the present participle is always incorrect a native speaker? If so then perhaps he's just a contrarian. But as I said, when there's any semantic distinction, it's not really about "emphasis" - it's about the fact that the present participle may imply seeing only part of an extended activity, rather than the entire process. – FumbleFingers May 28 '14 at 17:17
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    The dropping of a ticket is a punctive act. To me, 'I saw her dropping the ticket' indicates a frequentative situation: she kept dropping it and then picking it up again. – Edwin Ashworth May 28 '14 at 17:18
  • @Edwin: That's another potential reading which follows from the "completed action/ongoing activity" distinction I made. But only because it's semantically possible to drop a ticket more than once. You probably couldn't apply that sense in, for example, "I saw him skinning the cat". There may be many ways to skin a cat - but even if the one you saw had its full complement of nine lives, I don't think it could be repeatedly skinned. – FumbleFingers May 28 '14 at 17:26

Either version will do fine.

There is no difference whatsoever in the context you have provided.

She dropped the ticket, you saw her dropping the ticket.

She dropped the ticket, you saw her drop the ticket.

It might not work for all verbs (owe maybe?) but it works for drop.

This answer is dedicated to @F.E. and the phrase "Use comments to ask for more information or suggest improvements. Avoid answering questions in comments."

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    Just for that, I'm going to put another grammatical tidbit into the comments of the OP's post. So there! :) -- Oh, by the way, you got yourself a typo in that there post ("you saw here dropping the ticket"). – F.E. May 28 '14 at 19:51
  • @F.E. Damn these browser based spell checkers! Although if they did grammar as well then english.stackexchange.com would become a synonym for 404. – Frank May 28 '14 at 19:55

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