Here are examples of usage:

Almost immediately Mr Bartletop came shuffling out. (source)
I started violently when she came shuffling out. (source)
She stood in the court as the Germans came shuffling out. (source)

What is the grammatical function of shuffling? I can't seem to locate any category that clearly fits.

Update: It turns out that this sort of thing has indeed been studied, but apparently only relatively recently (2008). Having said that, there were precursors to it, e.g. in Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik (QGLS), as I will explain below.

Here is a Master's thesis in which the author describes a pattern called

Path Verb plus Manner of Motion Verb in the Ing-Form.

This, apparently, should be distinguished from certain participle clauses, as explained here:

There exists an overlap between participle clauses and the sentences containing a path verb + a verb in the ing-form. The following sentences illustrate the difference between the construction ‘a path verb plus a verb in the ing-form’ and the participle clause:

(26) When her mother died, Black Irene gave out such a blood-curdling scream in the middle of the night that we all woke up with a jump. My son went running to Irene's house to see what was the matter.

(27) Any junkie or Bowery red-eye comes limping down the street, then five sombre fatboys with baseball bats and axe-handles stride out of the nearest trattoria.

(28) People kept pouring in; the women would come in chatting and laughing, then as soon as they saw the mourners they’d break into loud wails […].

(29) One Sunday he entered the chapel shouting and screaming and cursing and woke the snoring congregation.

In sentences (26) and (27), the verbs in the ing-form clearly define the way of movement. On the other hand, the ing verbs in sentences (28) and (29) are participial clauses denoting simultaneous actions. In the following chapters, it will be emphasized that especially with the ‘a path verb plus a manner verb denoting a non-kinetic type of activity’ construction it is sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between these two phenomena because the borderline is sometimes very thin.

As has already been pointed out, the possible disputability of some of the examples of the pattern under consideration is more common in the case of non-kinetic verbs.

(30) Meanwhile, the two boys went on their way laughing.

Example (30) presents one of the borderline examples between the VVingPP construction and participle clauses. But this example should be labelled as participle clause because, according to Goldberg (2006, 51), the directional complement should follow the verb in the progressive form.

(31) “Help, help! I can’t get down,” I hollered. Soon my rescuers arrived jostling, pushing, laughing, joking.

Also example (31) represents a case of participle clause because the path verb is followed by a series of non-motion verbs instead of just one. However, it is still possible to say that non-motion verbs depict the way the movement is carried out and that they do not merely represent simultaneous actions.

The text continues with the discussion of 'Path Verb plus Manner of Motion Verb in the Ing-Form' per se:

As has been mentioned earlier, this specific sub-type of the construction may be found in Kudrnáčová’s (2008) publication in chapter ‘The Dissociation of a Change of Location and the Manner of its Execution’. Kudrnáčová uses here the sentence John came running to the store to illustrate the structure of this construction.

“Although the motion per se (expressed in the path verb) and its manner (expressed in the manner of motion verb) are each given a separate expression, the prepositional phrase specifies the direction of both the movement expressed in the path verb and the movement expressed in the manner of motion verb” (Kudrnáčová 2008, 48). This statement is valid when the manner of motion verb is used in purely kinetic such as in the following sentence:

(32) Then a few days later, the other girl, Sally, came dancing across the playground and said she’d just got hers back.

This example shows that Sally both ‘came across the playground’ and ‘danced across the playground’, which proves that “both path verb and manner of motion verb in the ing-form form an integral part of the directed motion event in question. These two components represent a compact unit” (Kudrnáčová 2008, 48). This characteristic proves that Goldberg’s VVingPP construction does not fully correspond with this sub-type of construction because Goldberg (2006, 51) claims that “the directional is an argument of the main verb, not of the second verb” (Goldberg 2006, 51). This claim brings the VVingPP construction closer to the second sub-type of the construction and will be analysed later in the course of this thesis.

As has been mentioned in the first part of this thesis, the reader’s/listener’s perception of the sentence differs in accordance with the use of a path verb or a manner of motion verb. Their use in combination “enables the speaker to present the mere fact of the change of location [in telic events] as having a processual character” (Kudrnáčová 2008, 50). At the same time, the use of this construction helps the encoder to achieve more vivid presentation of the movement because the attention of the decoder is focused both on the change of location and on the way it is achieved. It is true, however, that the path verb serves mostly as an indicator of the direction (in versus out of, to versus from the defined point etc.) and the specific information about the motion is conveyed in the ing-verb.

There were precursors to this study. For example,

The existence of the phrases of ‘they came running’ type is also briefly mentioned in QGLS in sub-chapters 8.28 and 8.29 (pp. 506-507), which deal with adjuncts. They mention not only motion verbs come and go but also non-motion verbs sit and stand. They state that:

“This is particularly noticeable in the case of certain verbs of broad meaning in respect of posture or motion: sit, stand, come, go. These can take an obligatory adjunct of respect in the form of an –ing clause, with consequent weakening of the primary meaning of the main verb” (Quirk et al, 1985, 506).

As examples for these three verbs they provide the following sentences:

(10) He stood waiting (patiently).

(11) She sat reading (to the children).

(12) They went hurrying (breathlessly).

(13) She came running (in great haste).

The above seems to be about as detailed a discussion as we are likely to find...

Previous guesses

For what it's worth, here are some other things that came to mind, which I'm leaving for completeness:

1. Shuffling as a direct object (or possibly a verb phrase complement) of a catenative verb

The idea here is that came (out) is a catenative verb, and shuffling its object, or, possibly, its verb phrase complement. From Wikipedia:

Catenative verbs are verbs which can be followed within the same clause by another verb. This second subordinated verb can be in either the infinitive (both full and bare) or gerund forms. An example appears in the sentence He deserves to win the cup, where "deserve" is a catenative verb which can be followed directly by another verb, in this case a to-infinitive construction.

Some catenative verbs are used in the passive voice followed by an infinitive: You are forbidden to smoke in here.

These verbs are called "catenative" because of their ability to form chains in catenative constructions. For example: We need to go to the tennis court to help Jim to get some practice before the game.

(Note that the name catenative comes from Latin catena, meaning 'chain'.)

There is indeed some positive evidence for come being catenative here. In QGLS, on p. 146, they make the following comment:

Unlike main verb constructions such as expect (to), want (to), and attempt (to), catenative constructions are in no way syntactically related to transitive verb constructions in which the verb is followed by a direct object or prepositional object (cf 16.268, 16.38). Compare:

John appeared to attack the burglar.
John attempted to attack the burglar.


*John appeared an attack on the burglar.
John attempted an attack on the burglar.

Let's try with come:

John came talking over the phone.
John attempted talking over the phone.

*John came a talk over the phone.
John attempted a talk over the phone.

So, this is an indication that the relationship between come (OK, without out in these cases) and the -ing participle is not one of an action verb and a direct object. This does support the theory that come functions like a catenative verb here.

On the other hand, there are also some problems with this theory.

One problem is that the relevant examples in QGLS (on p. 147) seem somewhat different from our case:

The girl started (out)/kept (on)/went on working.

Why different? Well, first of all, it seems that in these cases, one can't put the out (or on) to the end:

The girl started working out.
?The girl kept/went working on.

The example with started completely changes in meaning, whereas the examples with kept and went now look dubious. (Don't they? One might ask, What about keep on looking and keep looking on? Well, note that these aren't simple rewrites of each other, because on in the latter no longer belongs to keep, but instead to looking: 'looking on'. Indeed, you can say keep on looking on.)

In contrast,

He came out shuffling
He came shuffling out

both seem fine, and both seem to mean the same thing, and out in both seems to be associated with came.

Secondly, in the examples from QGLS, the participle seems to be pretty much required: if you do say

The girl started (out)/kept (on)/went on

to me, at least, this sounds like an ellipsis.

In contrast,

He came out

works just fine without shuffling or anything else.

Another problem is that, although come does appear in lists of catenative verbs (like this one), it is listed as requiring a bare infinitive in such usage. I suppose this refers to imperative, as in come eat? But then what about She came to eat?

Despite all these problems, so far, this theory where come out functions as a catenative verb seems more promising than the rest, to which I now turn.

2. Shuffling as an adverbial phrase (AdvP)

First of all, many sources (e.g. CGEL) will tell you that the head of an AdvP must be an adverb (which shuffling is not). Second, shuffling doesn't behave the same way an actual adverb like slowly does: compare

Slowly, a man came out
A man slowly came out
A man came slowly out
A man came out slowly,

which are all grammatical, with

?Shuffling, a man came out
?A man shuffling came out
A man came shuffling out
A man came out shuffling,

where the first two are dubious at best (the second is perhaps akin to "a man on fire came out"), and anyway in them, shuffling refers to man, not came. In contrast, in the examples of slowly, that word always refers to came.

So, shuffling does not seem to be an AdvP.

3. Shuffling as a complement of came

Here I have the mind an analog of the following pattern in QGLS (p. 1206), which they call Object + -ing participle complementation. This pattern is relevant to verbs of perception (feel, hear, notice,...), verbs of encounter (catch, discover, find, leave), and two verbs of coercive meaning (get and have). The perception verbs can also come with the bare infinitive, though the meaning changes somewhat. Example:

Tim watched Bill mend/mending the lamp.

The -ing predication can normally be omitted without radically altering the meaning:

I saw him lying on the beach. [entails: I saw him]

The problem, of course, is that there is no object in come out shuffling. And I was unable to find a pattern in QGLS that matches come out shuffling exactly.

Moreover, I'm not sure if shuffling is really a complement of come, or just a modifier.

4. Shuffling as an elliptical clause

Some sources (e.g. this one, in Sec. 43.e) say that a sentence like

I saw the elephant roller-skating

should be understood not in terms of roller-skating complementing saw (like QGLS suggests), but rather in terms of being an elliptical clause, e.g of this sentence:

I saw the elephant: it was roller-skating.

The fact that this treatment contradicts the one in QGLS is already worrisome. However, if it is accepted, then I suppose that He came out shuffling could be understood as the elliptical phrase arising from something like

He came out; he was shuffling.

But in all honesty, this story with elliptical clauses sounds like a stretch.

First of all, if this really is an instance of an ellipsis, there should be strong, explicit arguments for that conclusion.

Second, QGLS gives five characteristics of ellipses (pp. 884-887):

To distinguish ellipsis from other kinds of omission, it is important to emphasise the principle of VERBATIM RECOVERABILITY that applies to ellipsis; that is, the actual word(s) whose meaning is understood or implied must be recoverable. Even so, like those of so many other grammatical categories, the boundaries of ellipsis are unclear, and it is best to recognize different degrees of 'strength' in the identification of examples of ellipsis. To be ellipsis in the strictest sense, an example must satisfy all the criteria specified [below]:

i. The ellipted words are precisely recoverable;
ii. The elliptical construction is grammatically 'defective';
iii. The insertion of the missing words results in a grammatical sentence (with the same meaning as the original sentence;
iv. The missing word(s) are textually recoverable, and;
v. are present in the text in exactly the same form.

Looking at these, we see that none of them really apply to our case.

For starters, note that in the alleged reconstruction,

He came out; he was shuffling

we had to exchange the order of out and shuffling; this runs afoul of iii. Further, was is not present in the text at all; this violates iv. and v. Next, arguable, the following reconstruction is just as good:

He came out, and he was shuffling

which violates i. Finally, it's not at all obvious that our initial sentence is grammatically 'defective'; this violates ii.

5. Shuffle as an instance of semantic implication

QGLS recognizes other kinds of omission, e.g. "sematic implication" (p. 884). They give two examples of that:

i. Frankly, he is very stupid, about which they say, "The disjunct frankly implies a comment by the speaker on the way he is speaking. But there is no one set of missing words that can be supplied. We can expand frankly to (among many forms) I am speaking frankly when I say . . . or If I may put it frankly I would tell you....

ii. He's drunk, because I saw him staggering, for which " it is difficult to pin down in exact words what has been omitted," as any of the following could work: He's drunk, and I claim this because I saw him staggering, or and I know, or and I am sure of it, or and I am convinced of it, or and the proof is that...

But somehow shuffling seems much more intergated into He came shuffling out than the frankly and because I saw him staggering are into their respective sentences. One piece of evidence for this is that offsetting shuffling with commas looks weird: He came, shuffling, out. In contrast, in the QGLS examples, it is weird without the commas; even if it's rewritten as He is, frankly, very stupid, you'd still want those commas. So again our sentence doesn't seem to fit very well to the pattern described in QGLS.

A few extra observations

Finally, notice that certain other verbs are possible here, in addition to come (out), for example

He emerged shuffling.
He arrived shuffling.

Moreover, all this is very similar to the usage in the well-known idiom

He came out swinging.

In conclusion

So far, the correct analysis of the grammar of the word shuffling in the sentence He came shuffling out seems to be in terms of a construction called 'Path Verb plus Manner of Motion Verb in the Ing-Form'. This construction is not at all a part of standard grammar, since it appears to have only been studied relatively recently.

If anyone has a different opinion, I would very much appreciate hearing about it!

  • Related question, Is this use of present participle grammatically correct?.
    – user140086
    Feb 20, 2016 at 6:29
  • @rathony Thank you for your comment. However, other than the fact that they are both about present participles, I don't think the questions are related. In the question you alerted us to, the present participle is associated with a noun, as the answerers there have pointed out. In my question, the participle is instead associated with a verb, and yet it doesn't quite behave like an adverb. Feb 20, 2016 at 7:14
  • Unrelated, but isn't it the least worst option? You are comparing four options, some are worse than others but option one is the least worst of the bunch. Perhaps that structure is common in American English?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 20, 2016 at 7:58
  • 1
    @mari-lou-a Well, this source, though admittedly American, maintains that everyone who uses 'least worst' is wrong, even of they are British... Besides that, though logic is not always the best guide in matters of usage, logic would suggest "the least bad." After all, bad/less bad/least bad are the mirror images of what would be bad/more bad/most bad if we didn't have the specialized words worse and worst: since more and most go with the basic form of the adjective, so should less and least. Feb 20, 2016 at 8:16
  • @mari-lou-a Having said all that, searching the google books for "least bad" and "least worst" produces many hits for both (although the former does get twice as many as the latter). Feb 20, 2016 at 8:16

4 Answers 4


First of all, let me congratulate you on the eye-watering number of cannons you are aiming at this particular Mosquito!

A few things are interesting here; the mixed tense, the way that the 2nd verb can optionally split "came out" ('He came shuffling out' = 'He came out shuffling'). I'm not sure if some of that weirdness helps highlight or obscure the things going on in this sentence.

{Before I start, I should say I am not a grammarian, and only believe in grammar to the degree that it enables semantic value. So if I make an obvious mistake, feel free to edit or condemn as you see fit.}

My suggestion is that 'Path Verb plus Manner of Motion Verb in the Ing-Form' is a very specific instance of Attributive verbs (or Verbal Adjectives)

This paragraph in particular seems to describe what we see here: "The truly "verbal" adjectives are non-finite verb forms: participles (present and past), and sometimes to-infinitives. These act as verbs in that they form a verb phrase, possibly taking objects and other dependents and modifiers that are typical of verbs; however that verb phrase then plays the role of an attributive adjective in the larger sentence."

What is particularly meaningful about this way of looking at it, is that it explains a quality that none of the other options seem to address. The two verb phrases can have their relationship and tense inverted, and the sentence still works.

"He came shuffling out" = "Coming out he shuffled" = "Shuffling he came out" = "He shuffled coming out"

With those adjustments you see that each verb is equally ready to act in support of the other. They are not complementary or elliptical, they are parallel; neither refers directly to the other, but both refer concurrently to "he".

The tenses can also be modified to match, without causing syntactic or semantic harm. Which helps to emphasize that this is not an adverbial relationship.

"Shuffling he comes out" = "He comes shuffling out"

You also notice how multiple verbal actions can behave adjectively describing whatever the target of the primary verb is. "He came out shuffling, drooling, and verbing like a madman."

When you start viewing "concurrent verbal phrases" in terms of working like adjectives you notice that it avoids the traps you outline for the other 5 options, and works in a manner that is consistent with the larger structure of adjectives.

What's particularly interesting is that verbal adjectives aren't really common in English, but are standard in other languages. (I'd like a good citation for this, but googling only seems to provide a lot of anecdotal evidence. So here is a sample of that: http://lughat.blogspot.com/2009/01/verbal-adjectives-in-english.html ) I suspect that, in English, we are more likely to address that particular language function with various forms of clause parsing; so you may only see English Attributive verbs in short sentences. ( This theory once tested, searchingly; might validate that English tends to resolve this need by using, preferentially, adjectivized forms of verbs.)

{Edit to clarify a bit further}

The original poster asked if this represents a disagreement with this quote from the thesis "In sentences (26) and (27), the verbs in the ing-form clearly define the way of movement. On the other hand, the ing verbs in sentences (28) and (29) are participial clauses denoting simultaneous actions"

Yes, and no. Mostly I think it's a missed opportunity for the author. They hint at a thin line but don't actually define where it is. The structure of samples 28 & 29 highlight the participle usage, enough that they are easily definable as separate clauses (they came in, they were chatting, they were laughing). Let's examine it further by looking at it in a restructured way, "the women would come chatting and laughing in". It just feels wrong; but there's a genuine possibility that it isn't. This sample shows that we can split come/in by more than one participial clause without it feeling as wrong: "the women came singing and dancing in".

Clearly the "kinetic aspect" of dancing has an influence that helps. We're more comfortable with "came... dancing in" because both clauses work equally with "in". (she came in, she danced in)

Does it have to be a kinetic verb? Consider this phrase: "The crowd stood when the team came cheering in." Something in that sentence might snap at us, but it works syntactically and semantically.

So verbs that work in a Path & Direction method seem to have an influence on how willing we are to lump attributive verbs together. (Perhaps because we're subconsciously saving ourselves from repeating the directional item for each separate clause.)

So I would disagree if the author implies that the samples are different grammatical types, but I would agree if they are saying that "Path Verb...etc" works as an effective probabilistic tool for finding Attributive Verbs that we treat in an entirely undisguised manner.

  • Thank you for the insightful and thoughtful answer. Would it follow from what you've written that you disagree with the Master's thesis I quote (the real source, of course, is a publication by that Master's student's adviser)? Namely, they say that the 'went running' in My son went running to Irene's house is syntactically different from ' come in laughing' in the women would come in laughing. But your example He came out shuffling, drooling, and verbing like a madman seems to treat both of these cases on the same footing. Mar 1, 2016 at 4:30
  • Yes... no. Mostly I think it's a missed opportunity for the author. They hint at a thin line but don't actually define where it is. I'll make a few notes when I get a bit of a break from work. Mar 1, 2016 at 13:54
  • @linguisticturn Yeah that work break never happened, and it's been a long day... so I edited in a section inspired by that specific question, and I hope it's coherent. :-) Mar 2, 2016 at 4:41
  • Thanks for the edit... yes, it's very much coherent. :) Mar 2, 2016 at 5:46

COME is an intransitive verb and has a tendecy of having one or the other particle prefixed to effect modulation in meaning. OUT is one as such.

SHUFFLE has both transitive and intransitive usages. In the post it is used intransitively. Wiktionary defines it to mean moving in a slovenly dragging manner in walking or dancing and cites the following examples :

•He shuffled out of the room.

•The aged creature came/ Shuffling along with ivory headed wand.(Keats)

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines SHUFFLE:

—(intransitive always+adv/prep.) To walk very slowly or noisily without lifting your feet of the ground – shuffle forward/over/ back / out etc.

The particle, OUT is very much glib with both COME and SHUFFLE and either of them can lay claim to its ownership. Be it what it may, the fact remains he was successful in his attempt to be OUT. Good Heavens! He shuffled (came) out after all!

What is "shuffling" then? It is simply a participle in the like manner:-

** She came dancing.

'Shuffle' always requires a preposition or an adverb in its intransitive use. Keats has also used it in the like manner in the example above.

  • Thank you for your comment. Let's stick with she came dancing [I'm really not sure it's an appropriate example, since it doesn't admit an 'out' at the end: * she came dancing out... this may or may not be relevant; I'm just not sure at the moment]. We all agree that dancing is a participle. The question is, what is the grammatical relationship between came and dancing ? Is it (a) a catenative verb construction? (b) a verb and its adverbial phrase? (c) a verb and its complement? (d) some sort of omission construction, such as an ellipsis? (e) something else? Feb 20, 2016 at 21:57
  • Participles are verbal adjectives. Here intransitive verb, COME, functions as a linking verb Feb 21, 2016 at 9:34
  • I considered that possibility. However, it seemed to me to be an unlikely explanation, for the following reasons (I'll be referring to the discussion here): Feb 21, 2016 at 11:00
  • 1. a copula defines the subject (say by ascribing it a property); a non-copular verb defines the action. In Kim came dancing, the dancing refers to the coming, not to Kim; it doesn't say of Kim that she possesses a property of dancing. There is no such property---you can be a dancing person, but you cannot have the property of dancing (of course, you can say Kim is dancing, but here is is acting not as a copula, but as an auxiliary verb forming the present perfect tense). Instead, Kim came dancing says that the manner of Kim's coming was that of dancing. Feb 21, 2016 at 11:01
  • 2. The verb come has two documented meanings in which it can function copulatively (see here): i. with close, 'To approach a state of being or accomplishment' (His test scores came close to perfect); ii. 'To become, to turn out to be' ( the belt came loose; the prediction came true). But in Kim came dancing, come does not function in either of these senses---rather, it indicates that Kim has moved, either towards the speaker or towards some other focus of the sentence that is presumably specified by context. Feb 21, 2016 at 11:02

A gerundive (such as 'shuffling') can be used as an adverbial. It inherits the tense and aspect of the main verb. It could be placed almost anywhere, but it makes the most sense close to the main verb since other adverbials (such as 'out' or 'to the house') affect both verbs. The main verb in this case is giving the direction ('came' = toward me), while the gerundive is giving the manner, and more adverbials are giving direction, destination, etc. The main verb could be turned into an adverbial, and the gerundive into a verb, as in 'he came shuffling out' = 'he shuffled out toward me'.


"He came shuffling out" is the same as "A stone came flying through the window". The participles shuffling or flying give more information about how the coming happens. I have the habit to see this as two statements: They came out and they were shuffling or The stone came through the window; it was flying.

You might as well say "They came out in a shuffling manner" or "The stone came in flying manner/in flying".

No matter how you analyse it, English has the possibility to have a participle after a verb of movement describing/modifying the manner of movement. You might call it adverbial use of a present participle after a verb of movement.

The same construction is possible with verbs of position:

A queen was sitting by the window knitting (and she was knitting). I stood wondering ...

  • Thank you for your answer. As I stated in my question, it is clear that shuffling is associated with the verb. I would, however, like to understand the precise way how it is so associated. Your answer begins by suggesting that the situation should be analyzed as an ellipsis (my option 4), but at the end you seem to switch and talk about "adverbial use" (my option 2). Feb 20, 2016 at 7:25
  • I was wondering, do you have a preference for one of them? Also, what do you think about the objections I raised against them? I could add one more, namely that according to QGLS, "the principle of VERBATIM RECOVERABILITY that applies to ellipsis; that is, the actual word(s) whose meaning is understood or implied must be recoverable." That's not really the case here, I think? Feb 20, 2016 at 7:25
  • I don't use views of ECGE because I don't think that a learner will understand them. In "a stone came flying" you can say "flying" is adverbial use. When you want to know how such a construction comes into being then you can do it as I showed in my explanations.
    – rogermue
    Feb 20, 2016 at 7:40
  • @linguisticturn - Sorry, I mixed up the grammar of QGLS and Huddleston's CGEL. But in verbatim recoverability I don't see a verb of movement (come) + present participle.
    – rogermue
    Feb 20, 2016 at 13:55
  • That's just the thing, it doesn't seem to be an instance of an ellipsis (I give several reasons why not in the latest version of my question). QGLS recognize other kinds of omission, e.g. "sematic implication" (p. 884). They give two examples of that: Feb 20, 2016 at 14:47

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