I am reviewing a paper and the following sentence keeps jumping out at me as an incorrect usage of the word completing:

For the subset of individuals completing fewer than 500 trials in total, the total number of trials was a significant predictor of the mean daily number of location errors.

Is this a correct usage of the word completing or should it be changed to that completed? Thanks for your help.

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    There's nothing wrong with the cited usage. Would you insist that people earning low wages should be expressed as people that earn low wages? Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 18:31
  • Sounds weird to me too. The difference between FumbleFingers' case and this one is that people are presumably still earning low wages, where as the case here is definitely over and done with. If they earned low wages 4 years ago but not anymore, wouldn't it sound strange to say "for those earning low wages" when talking about something that already happened?
    – skaz
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 20:21
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    @skaz FF's comparison case is different for the reason you mention, but the present participle is often used for past events happening (!) over an extended period. Elizabeth I, reigning from 1558 to 1603, was the fifth and last Tudor monarch. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 15:45
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    Completing suggests that our point of view for the rest of the sentence is to remain within the trial period. Location errors, whatever they may be, were measured during the trials. If you replace completing with that completed, then you are suggesting that the location errors were measured after the trial ended. The goofy part is the use of predictor in this context. It should be a correlation.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


There is pitfall in the phrase-"Present participle." This participle is suggestive of something happening, but not necessarily in the present. It suggests an action as going-on.

Better let us view present participle with its qualifying or governing words, as phrase form of present imperfect or past imperfect. It also carries a sense of "yonder past" (coinage mine) as:

Knocking at the gate, he asked admission.

Here, we know, 'knocking' has, by now, become a past event but we are forced to use this form as per sentence structure.

In the given instance,there is nothing wrong in using PRESENT PARTICIPLE.

This participle phrase can, at best, be replaced by an adjective clause where "completed" may have a chance.


As @BaridBaranAchharya has noted, completing seems wrong because it implies the individuals in question are in the process of completing the trials in the present, when they have completed them in the past. The following would be better:

For the subset of individuals who completed [rather than completing] fewer than 500 trials in total, the total number of trials was a significant predictor of the mean daily number of location errors.

Update: I also acknowledge and support @PhilSweet's comment, which I just noticed.

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