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Suppose we have these sentences:

1. Smiling, she offered me a hot cup of chocolate. 
2. Busy finishing my homework, I have no time to even think about video games.
3. Knowing there's little change of being selected, Tim did not try out for the team.
4. Having visited NYC, now I know what real cities are like
5. Happily, he took my advice.

In the 5 sentences above, we have gerunds ("smiling", "knowing there's little change of being selected"), adjective ("busy finishing my homework"), verb participle form ("having visited NYC"), and adjective ("happily") all describing a certain state of being of the subject.

What is the formal name for such a grammatical element/structure?

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The first four sentences start with what the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (p291) calls a participle clause:

A non-finite clause with an -ing form or -ed form as its principal verbal component. (Also called participial clause.) Examples:

  • Looking to neither right nor left, he marched out

  • Having been warned before, he did not do it again.

Sentence 5 does not have a participle clause, and is in fact ambiguous. I suspect that most readers would interpret happily, not as referring to the state of mind of the he taking the advice, but rather as expressing the writer's attitude to the fact that the he took the advice. This type of adverbial is called a disjunct (ODEG, p124).

To disambiguate the sentence happily needs to be repositioned: He happily took my advice or He took my advice happily.


As an aside, a participle clause that has a different (implicit) subject than the subject of the matrix clause is called a misrelated, dangling or hanging particple. One of the ODEG's examples is: Sleeping in mine orchard, a serpent stung me (Hamlet, 1.5).

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  • Yes, Shoe has it, although I've always heard this called a present participle phrase, not clause. The difference is that a clause contains both a subject and a predicate. – William Bloom Mar 31 '15 at 9:23
  • @William. In traditional grammar a clause has a subject and a finite verb, but in modern grammar the OP's examples would be called non-finite clauses: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-finite_clause . – Shoe Mar 31 '15 at 9:46
  • @Shoe: I understand what participle clauses and disjuncts are; what I'd like to know is if there is a shared terminology based on the function they serve: describing a certain state of being of the subject. What about the noun, "a 13-year-old middle-schooler", in the sentence "A 13-year-old middle-schooler, Timmy already received admission letters from top universities in the country including MIT and Stanford"? Is it an implicit participle clause (maybe you can insert "Being" at the front)? – Yibo Yang Mar 31 '15 at 16:11
  • @Yibo. I would call "a 13-year-old middle-schooler" in your sentence a fronted appositive. If you add the participle being, it becomes a participle clause. I know of no specific term that designates the participle clause as "describing a certain state of being of the subject". – Shoe Mar 31 '15 at 18:23
  • I think the term I'm looking for is "adverbial". Thanks. – Yibo Yang Mar 31 '15 at 18:47
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The are fronted adverbial adjuncts.

They are adjuncts because they are not arguments of the verb or any other predicator. They are adverbial because they convey background information about the verb/situation. They are brought to the front of the sentence to emphasise them.

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