I have just read an article, which has following sentence:

The power failed repeatedly throughout the day, adding to the chaos

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/30/climate/record-heat-waves.html

Such examples continue to confuse me. It seems to be describing action/state of frequent power failure, so it must be acting as an adverb. This website explains that participial phrases act as adverbs where there is a cause-and-effect relationship between a dependent and an independent clause. This seems appropriate explanation for the sentence I shared.

My question is how one can form unreduced version of such participial phrases. For the above sentence, I can think of one possible version of its full form:

The power failed repeatedly throughout the day, which added to the chaos. 

Based on shortening rules, we can delete 'which' and convert 'added' into 'adding'. But, as far as I know, adjective not adverb clauses start with 'which'. So, above version of full-sentence may be incorrect.

So, I would like to know:

  • How can one tell if participial phrase is acting as an adjective or adverb?
  • For such confusing phrases, how can one full-form of sentence?
  • Another rephrasing (which would work better in some similar contexts than this exact one) is It [only] added to the chaos that the power failed repeatedly throughout the day. Which gets rid of that "participial phrase" category anyway, without changing the meaning. But honestly, who cares whether any give usage should be classed as adverbial or adjectival, if it doesn't affect the meaning? Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 19:42

1 Answer 1


Some would say that

  • The power failed repeatedly throughout the day, adding to the chaos

uses the participial clause incorrectly, as it should refer to the nearest appropriate noun phrase ('the power' here). And the power didn't add to the chaos; it was the repeated power failures (or the repeatedness of the power failures) that added to the chaos. Contrast

  • From that day the harsh Egyptian foremen demanded that the Israelites collect the necessary straw themselves, adding to their hardships.

But Pullum has written an article saying that the 'non-matching modifiers are always iniquitous' stance is precious. If the meaning is clear, it's better to read with understanding rather than criticism. And

  • The power failed repeatedly throughout the day, adding to the chaos

obviously means

  • The power failed repeatedly throughout the day. This of course added to the chaos.

Essentially, with examples like this, a second (though obviously related) statement is made, either using an ing-clause or a second sentence. In such cases, it doesn't make sense to talk of modification, whether by adverb/adverbial or adjective/adjectival. There may well be a causative semantic relation (as here).

The case is different with say

  • The man sitting by the pool looks tired

where the ing-clause is obviously post-modifying the NP (some would prefer determiner phrase) 'the man'.

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