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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    Does this help? "When they begin a sentence, they are often set off by a comma (as an introductory modifier); otherwise, participial phrases will be set off by commas if they are parenthetical elements." The Garden of Phrases grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/phrases.htm – Kris Apr 9 '15 at 6:05
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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. – John Lawler Apr 11 '15 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. – John Lawler Apr 5 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. – John Lawler Apr 5 at 16:01
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    Spend the morning is indeed verb plus object. But it's metaphoric, using the Time Is Money` metaphor theme. In that theme, a clause using "spend" and some amount of time, with a gerund complement means to experience the activity or state described by that clause over that period of time. So spent time doing X simply means did X. – John Lawler Apr 5 at 20:57

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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