Struggling with a simple sentence:

He had spent the morning investigating a burglary at the City Deli, a small shop …

Is investigating a burglary a participial phrase here? Seems so. That would imply placing a comma in front of it, which sounds a bit strange. Any help will be appreciated.

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    This is a garden variety A-Equi Gerund Complement, like He enjoyed/likes/tried/indicated an interest in/continued/spent an hour baking a cake. The reason is seems different is that there is a metaphor involved; the Time Is Money metaphor theme, to be precise. Spend an hour V-ing means 'continue V-ing for one hour'; it measures the perceived duration of an event. Apr 11, 2015 at 22:07
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    @AllexKramer: As for "gerund", that's the traditional name for the variety of complement clause headed by a verb form with -ing. Gerund complements tend to be subjects, while infinitive complements tend to be objects; it all depends on the verb. "Participle" is a name given to a number of different -ing constructions, mostly adverbial, that are not gerunds. Apr 5, 2019 at 14:57
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    It isn't the word that's a noun; it's the clause the -ing word is in. I like eating tacos has a subject I, a verb like, and an object eating tacos. The object is a noun phrase, by definition; but it's a clause being used as a noun phrase. That's the gerund; it's a construction, not a single word. Participles are not always adjectival; they are often adverbial as well. The whole point of subordinate clauses is that they act like some kind of part of the sentence, like subject, object, or modifier. Apr 5, 2019 at 16:01
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    That's pretty clearly an adverbial; it can be moved around -- Wearing a t-shirt I went to work. Apr 5, 2019 at 23:26
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    Defining words and constructions as being (or "acting as", which adds no meaning) nouns or verbs or adjectives or adverbs is not done by determining "what that phrase was telling us about". That's totally meaningless; anyone can say anything at all about what any word in the sentence is "telling us", and somebody will agree with them. Ignore that stuff; it's just BS. Instead, there are tests that can be applied. For nouns, in English they can take an article -- any constituent beginning with an article is a noun phrase. For adverbs, they can appear in several positions. Etc. Apr 7, 2019 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


Yes, that is an participial clause. However, commas do not have always to precede or follow such clauses, esp in final position.

I see

He had spent the morning investigating a burglary at the City Deli.

as equivalent to:

All his time went into investigating a burglary at the City Deli.

You wouldn't use a comma before "investigating" here, would you?


However, in the following one can readily identify two distinct actions:

John hangs out with his buddies, leaving me alone at home.

the 2nd one parenthetical (as Kris says), and the comma emphasizes that.

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