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Here is a quick question. In the following two sentences, which one is correct?

XXX changes the syntax of software while keeping the semantic equivalence.

XXX changes the syntax of software while keeps the semantic equivalence.

closed as off-topic by Nick2253, Edwin Ashworth, Hellion, FumbleFingers, Centaurus Apr 15 '15 at 1:48

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To make it more general: here the conjunction while is used to connect the main clause and the participle construction, which functions as an adverb in the provided example. In this case you should use present participle keeping after the conjunction while. In the main clause you have a subject (xxx or Bob), so you can use present simple tense changes. The examples in Grumble Snatch’s post illustrate this well:

Bob changes the syntax of software while maintaining semantic equivalence.

Bob maintains semantic equivalence while changing the syntax of software.

Alternatively, if you would like to use a finite verb both times (a finite verb must normally have a subject and a tense) you can use a compound sentence, for example:

Xxx changes the syntax of software and he/she/it keeps the semantic equivalence.

  • Just wondering whether you're suggesting that the repetition of the subject is required in such a construction. "Xxx changes the syntax of software and keeps the semantic equivalence" seems perfectly OK to me. – Rodney Atkins Dec 1 '17 at 15:34
  • @Rodney Honestly, I'm not sure I remember what I was suggesting a year and a half ago :-). To my (non-native-speaker's) ear your sentence sounds perfectly fine. On the other hand "XXX changes the syntax of software while keeps the semantic equivalence" makes me cringe. I'd say that with while you need to repeat the subject. Now, why did I write an example where I both repeated the subject and changed the conjunction - beats me. If I remember, I'll get back to you... – Lucky Dec 1 '17 at 18:39
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  1. Xxx changes the syntax of software while keeping the semantic equivalence.

  2. Xxx changes the syntax of software while keeps the semantic equivalence. (wrong)

We can omit the subject of a subordinate clause that's headed by a so-called subordinating conjunction such as while. However, English usually only allows tensed verbs when the subject of the clause is overtly stated. Because the subject of KEEP is not represented in the subordinate clause in example (2), we cannot have a present tense form, keeps. In contrast in example (1), there is no subject, but we have a non-tensed gerund-participle form keeping, so this is fine.

We could, alternatively, reiterate the subject in the subordinate clause and therefore use the present tense form keeps:

  • Xxx changes the syntax of software while it keeps the semantic equivalence.

This sentence might sound slightly better with the subordinate phrase occurring first:

  • While it keeps the semantic equivalence, Xxx changes the syntax of software.
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Bob changes the syntax of software while maintaining semantic equivalence.

or

Bob maintains semantic equivalence while changing the syntax of software.

These options are both correct.

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"Changes the syntax of software" is a meaningless clause to this programmer.

Perhaps Bob rewrites the software (into the Ralph language) while maintaining semantic equivalence with the original (Joe language) version?

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