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A coworker wrote the following sentence, but I wonder what connection there is between the -ing phrase and the main clause:

  1. John lived on takeaway food -- regularly discarding the packaging on the floor.

This -ing phrase does not look like a description of cause or consequence, as in "Feeling hungry (= Because he was hungry), John bought a sandwich" and "The typhoon struck the city, killing fifty people (=, which killed five people)."

How would you describe the relation of the -ing phrase to the main clause in (1)?

  • Sequential or simultaneous, if I had to settle on just one word. – John Lawler Mar 6 '17 at 15:53
  • Can you say "He lived on takeaway food while regularly discarding the packaging on the floor"? – Apollyon Mar 6 '17 at 15:54
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    The expression regularly discarding the packaging on the floor is an adjunct, an optional item in clause structure. It refers to the subject "John", so it's predicative; not a complement, though, but an adjunct, more precisely a "depictive adjunct". Adjuncts like this one are often called "supplements", since they are not tightly integrated into clause structure, but are loosely attached in writing by punctuation like a comma or dash, and set apart in speech by a slight pause. – BillJ Mar 6 '17 at 15:55
  • I'm more concerned about its semantic aspects. What exactly does it relate to the main clause semantically? What semantic function does it serve there? – Apollyon Mar 6 '17 at 15:58
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    BillJ just explained. It's a separate predication that is asserted alongside the main clause, and its precise semantics depends on what it is and what the main clause is. In this case, consuming and discarding are in opposition (you can do one or the other to anything, but not both), so the clauses can be connected in any way that asserts or presupposes a conjunction of the two propositions. This may include temporal while, certainly; and if you don't need to use a participle, you could just say He lived on junk food and threw the packages on the floor. – John Lawler Mar 6 '17 at 16:02

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