I'm working on an activity for advanced students to help them talk about their careers. I am making a true or false listening activity, designed to help them talk about their careers in ways other than three or four word simple present sentences: "I am a manager," "I work at Sony," etc.

The context for the listening activity is a video about a retired police officer who cleaned furnaces, flew a Medivac helicopter, and worked the roads as a state trooper. Some of the statements for consideration are: "Cleaning furnaces was his main job," "Working in the police department was a routine job," or "After working as a helicopter pilot, he switched to the roads."

One sentence is giving me problems: "Working the roads, he felt he was helping people." "Working the roads" is a participle phrase. I would like to avoid this construction as I feel it won't help and will lead to too many problems and questions. I would like to add "by" to help understanding: "By working the roads, he felt he was helping people" as I feel there are other ways that this can be used: "By talking to customers, I can solve their problems," or "By visiting factories, I can understand their issues."

What kind of phrase is "By working the roads,"? Is it a similar construction to "After working at [company], I then worked at [company.]"? To me this kind of phrase yields more expression potential in the classroom, so I'd like to explore it in the activity.

1 Answer 1


In the sentence below, the introductory text is called a nominative absolute

Working the roads, he felt he was helping people.

It stands syntactically free (thus the absolute) and describes the action of the subject in the independent clause.

If you supply a preposition, the introductory text becomes an adverbial prepositional phrase.

By working the roads, he felt he was helping people.

In this case, "by" is a preposition of manner telling how it came about that he felt. Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether the prepositional phrase applies to the subject, the predicate, or the whole clause.

  • Thank you. Is the nominative absolute also called a participial phrase, or are the different? Sep 25, 2015 at 4:11
  • Also, is it true then that if I add "when" or "while" that the phrase still retains its nature? I'd like to give further examples that are relevant but in the same category. Sep 25, 2015 at 4:14
  • @michael_timofeev The nominative absolute is a kind of participial phrase. I don't think "when" or "while" changes things. They're just adverbs modifying the participle.
    – deadrat
    Sep 25, 2015 at 4:20

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