Here is the example sentence

“While I knew you were angry,” stammered the fellow, huffing along behind his beleaguered friend, “this was not what I had in mind.”

I figure that the "huffing along behind his beleaguered friend" is an adverb clause that hasn't been preceded by a subordinating conjunction, I feel that there is more. Is there a tense disagreement between 'stammered' and 'huffing'?

Am I correct in this?

Thank you!

  • I assume that's supposed to be "a tense disagreement." But huffing is a gerund and doesn't serve as main verb. – deadrat Jan 15 '16 at 5:00
  • Do you pronounce your surname as yoos-tn or house-tn? – Ricky Jan 15 '16 at 5:02
  • @Ricky: I usually explain it as Hue-stun. So h-yoos-tn might be pretty proximal to the actual pronunciation of it. – Nick Houston Jan 15 '16 at 5:25
  • @deadrat It's a present participle, modifying (there's another one) the noun fellow - not a gerund. Basically, it's a special kind of adjective. – Anonym Jan 15 '16 at 5:30
  • @Anonym Now, let's not always see the same hands. I could also analyze the gerund as a nominative absolute, but I was trying to get NH to realize that huffing as a gerund isn't part of a tense system, so there's no disagreement problem. Unlike say, "The fellow stammered, as he will be huffing along behind his friend." – deadrat Jan 15 '16 at 5:54

There is no problem with the adverbial "huffing along behind his beleaguered friend." It is what is called an absolute phrase. It is completely proper as written and needn't be preceded by a subordinating conjunction. It describes the manner in which the fellow stammered.

As for "stammered" and "huffing," I'm not sure what you're driving at with "dense disagreement." The two are not in conflict. The former describes speaking and the latter describes the way he breathed while speaking. One pictures the fellow saying this while he followed his friend, struggling to keep up and to keep his breath.

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  • Huh! Thanks for the answer. That makes sense, but I guess I don't get what makes it different from an adverb phrase that's missing a subordinating conjunction. Could you clarify? And sorry about 'dense disagreement'! I definitely meant tense. I don't know how that sneaked in... – Nick Houston Jan 15 '16 at 5:27
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    You're closer to the answer than you think, for you've hit the nail on the head: The difference is the absence of a subordinating conjunction. For example, were you to add the subordinating conjunction "while," drop the comma, and say, "while he huffed along behind his beleaguered friend," then it would become a subordinate clause. – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 5:33
  • @Nick Houston You are correct in your feeling that "Huffing along behind his beleaguered friend" is an adverbial clause (a non-finite participial clause to be precise). It's clearly a clause as there is a subject-predicate structure here, with the verb "huffing" heading the predicate and the subject "fellow", which is retrievable from the matrix clause. Although there is no internal marker of subordination (a subordinator), it is shown to be subordinate by virtue of its function in the larger construction. There's no issue with the tenses, so your sentence is fine. – BillJ Jan 15 '16 at 8:51
  • @Nick Houston A word of warning: do not be fooled into thinking that your "huffing" adverbial is a phrase, because it is not! Here is a link to an authoritative source (University College London's grammar site) link Check out their example "Drinking a coke, he sat on the park bench and enjoyed the sunshine". The expression "Drinking a coke" has no subordinating conjunction, a non-finite verb, and no overt subject, yet it is still clearly described as a subordinate clause, because that's exactly what it is, not a phrase! – BillJ Jan 15 '16 at 10:09

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