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''I hunger for sand! I yearn for a desert, pining for a draught...''

Is this sentence (the second, that is) from above grammatically right? I mean, can I use the two present tenses, simple and continuous, in a combination like this?

  • It is grammatical. It says that the desert is pining for a draught. – GEdgar Nov 23 '15 at 22:28
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The formation is not two different present tenses, it is a present tense and a participle together. In the same way, one might write

It flamed, red with the heat of the embers

Although it happens to be the adjectival form of a verb, 'pining' here is just an adjective, like 'red', and not a new verb.

The 'red' modifies 'it', and you omit the 'is' from 'It is red.' because you are modifying in apposition, as if you said

It, red with the head of the embers, flamed.

But you have subsequently reversed the phrases, which is permitted, especially since it removes an unnecessary comma.

  • If it's correct as is, wouldn't the participle phrase "pining for a draught" modify "desert"? I like your example, but I'm not sure that the desert is the one doing the pining... – Nonnal Nov 23 '15 at 21:44
  • @Nonnal No, there is a comma. "I sit in my room, eating lunch." The room is not eating the lunch... "I, eating lunch, sit in my room". – jobermark Nov 23 '15 at 22:08
  • If you omitted the pause that indicates there has been a reversal of phrases, then you would be correct. "I yearn for a desert pining for a draught" would be about a thirsty desert. – jobermark Nov 23 '15 at 22:27
  • Good analysis. Your room/lunch example sealed the deal for me; you might consider adding that to your answer, as it adds value to the discussion. Nevertheless, there seem to be exceptions, and I wonder if we could determine the rule. Why (other than context/human understanding) is "I eat a sandwich, chewing loudly" interpreted differently from "I see a cat, purring loudly"? – Nonnal Nov 23 '15 at 22:52
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    The former is that way because of the grammar. The latter is that way because of ellipsis. Worse yet: "She looked at the body, lying on the bed" can really mean "She looked at the body lying on the bed", or 'She, lying on the bed, looked at the body" The comma in the first is just there for effect, to evoke "She looked at the body. It was lying on the bed." and not for any grammatical reason. Unfortunately, we expect too much from our one mark of punctuation. It really cannot provide both clarity and art. – jobermark Nov 23 '15 at 23:17
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In most cases, the answer is no—not without modification.

When you see constructions like this, generally one of two things is intended:

  1. I yearn for a desert, and I am pining for a draught. (pining used as a verb)

  2. I, while pining for a draught, yearn for a desert. (pining used as an adjective)

In case #1, the original sentence is intended to be a compound predicate: "I ( (yearn for the desert) and (pining for a draught) )." Here we are missing not only the coordinating conjunction, but more importantly the am before pining. So the lack of parallelism works against you, and the form is ungrammatical.

In case #2, "pining for a draught" is an appositive used to provide amplifying information to the subject (I). The problem is that it's been placed too far away from the noun/pronoun that it's describing. Moving it directly after I (and setting it off with commas) makes it well-formed: "I, pining for a draught, yearn for a desert."

Without one or the other modification, however, the sentence is ungrammatical.

  • Reversing modifier phrases to remove an unnecessary comma is almost always permitted -- even when it breaks up an apposition. – jobermark Nov 23 '15 at 22:24

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