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I stumbled across this question in 'Intermediate Language Practice' by Michael Vince: 'Even though they were losing at half-time, City won in the end. Despite________________________________'

The answer given is 'Despite losing at half-time, City won in the end.'

For me, the answer doesn't work. Something like 'Despite being behind at half-time...' would be better.

However, I am having trouble explaining why it doesn't work. Is it because the tenses for 'lose' and 'win' do not agree in the original 'even though' sentence so there is ambiguity when you try and reduce 'were losing' to 'losing' because the 'won in the end' makes us read the subordinate clause as 'they lost'?

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    Yes, I think your proposed explanation fits the bill nicely. – Brian Donovan Jun 27 '14 at 15:35
  • I think it works, but maybe it could be improved thus: "Despite their losing at half-time..." The team lost the first half of the match, but won in the second half. Makes sense to me. – Mari-Lou A Jun 27 '14 at 17:00
  • @Mari-LouA: No. they were losing at halftime is not the same as losing at halftime. Despite losing at halftime really means despite having lost at halftime, which makes no sense (if the game resumes past halftime). Despite losing means in spite of losing, which implies that the subject has already lost. – Drew Jun 28 '14 at 2:36
  • @drew I know football/soccer commentators are not the greatest source of grammatical or semantical correctness, but I have heard of teams who "lost the first half" to then make a comeback in the second half and win a game. If for example an incident (e.g. heavy rain) occurs during the break and a match has to be abandoned, bookies still have to pay to pundits who had bet only on the first-half result. In the UK people will bet on anything and that example is very typical. – Mari-Lou A Jun 28 '14 at 4:55
  • @Mari-LouA: Yes, one hears that. But it is really a figurative expression, comparing the first half to a game. If there first half were the whole game then they would have lost: they effectively lost the first half. And losing the first half is not the same as losing [the game] at halftime. – Drew Jun 28 '14 at 14:15
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The ambiguity arises in OP's rephrasing because in his version, [despite] losing could also mean having lost (a "completed", not a "continuous" action). The easiest way to avoid this is...

Despite having been losing at half-time, City won in the end.

The reason we don't normally use the above form is more fully explored by this answer on English Language Learners - basically, it's the horror aequi principle: we don't like multiple occurrences of the same linguistic element (in this case, two -ing forms) in close proximity, particularly when they're performing different syntactic roles. But in this case we must do it, to avoid ambiguity.

Note that in principle it could be changed to Despite being losing at half-time, but that really would be “The horror! The horror!” (originally Proust, but better known to many as Kurtz's final words in Apocalypse Now).

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    O horror aequi! – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 27 '14 at 16:28
  • @StoneyB: Good catch. I'd rather have seen this question on ELL in the first place, but it's certainly worth linking to your answer there – FumbleFingers Jun 27 '14 at 16:55
  • Your answer is correct, including your proposal to avoid the problem. However, the OP's solution is more natural (and even clearer): despite being behind at half-time. – Drew Jun 28 '14 at 2:38
  • @Drew: I think you miss the whole point of the question. Neither OP nor me are interested in despite being behind (so it's not a "solution"). The question is about how the specific verb to lose works here, particularly focussing on the fact that to be losing is a "continuous state" that may be an intermediate stage in a process culminating in the "completed action" of winning (or losing, obviously). Though I might have mentioned that alternative if OP hadn't already, and if the question had been asked on ELL rather than ELU. – FumbleFingers Jun 28 '14 at 11:53
  • I don't think I miss the whole point of the question. And I disagree that despite losing at halftime is even ambiguous in this context. It can only mean despite having lost at halftime, IMO. Although losing at halftime could express continuing action, as being short for, say, although they were losing at halftime; despite cannot, IMO. It would be a stretch to say it was short for despite the fact that they were losing at halftime, when the straightforward meaning of lost is so obvious. (BTW - did you really mean to write Neither OP nor me are interested...?) – Drew Jun 28 '14 at 14:12

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