Since "at one time" is a time indicator, shouldn't the gerund "operating" be equivalent, while giving a better flow joining sentences? Or is it more confusing/improper?

Preceding text of the same paragraph:

While ***** currently serves western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia, the chain also served the Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York, Pennsylvania markets from the mid-1990s to 2010.

Text in question:

At one time operating five restaurants in the Harrisburg market alone, by 2010 only one remained in Harrisburg, and one each in New Cumberland, Lancaster, and York.


At one time it operated five restaurants in the Harrisburg market alone. By 2010 only one remained in Harrisburg, and one each in New Cumberland, Lancaster, and York.

  • Hello, Robert, welcome to EL&U. I can't see anything wrong with either of those constructions. However in the second sentence "operating" is not a gerund but, what 'ing' words normally are, the present participle of a verb. For it to be a gerund there would have to be another verb in the first clause of the sentence. For example "Operating five restaurants in Harrisburg proved unsustainable" would be using 'operating' as a gerund because "Operating five restaurants in Harrisburg" is a gerund phrase acting as the subject of "proved". – BoldBen May 6 '19 at 8:55
  • Thanks my friend. Another editor at Wikipedia changed my text to the second version citing grammar, and now I'm second guessing myself. So thank you Ben for the reassuring feedback and also cluing me in to what a gerund really is! – Robert Thomas May 6 '19 at 9:25

A present participle is called “present” only because of its form; it does not express tense like the finite verb in a sentence, but only establishes time relative to the action/state of the main clause. In your example, it’s helped along by a time expression.

With a present participle, the action/state described takes place concurrently with the main action/state, whether in the past, present, or future.

From very small beginnings in the Greek coastal trades, the Chandris family company developed into a renowned concern, at one time operating some of the most famous liners in the world. — Amazon

Since developed is in the past, so is the operating.

If one wishes to express an action/state prior to the main one, you can use a perfect participle:

In addition to his racing activities, Mr. Shaw is widely known in the aeronautical field, at one time having operated a training school and passenger service line in Los Angeles. — The Rubber Age 46–47 (1940), 401.

This is analogous to using the past perfect: it’s only necessary when the time difference between two past events is topical. In this case, it’s because Mr. Shaw is now primarly engaged in racing, but is still known in aeronautics because he had at one time operated a flight school and run a passenger service.

Whether you use a participial phrase or express the same thought with an independent clause is a matter of style, but the construction can improve the flow of a paragraph and by subordinating one bit of information to another more transparently express their relationship.

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  • Thanks very much Karl. A perfect participle in a participial phrase sounds like the way to go. My goal is to overcome the short choppy sentences, often a date, event, date, event, pattern. You've made this much clearer now. I sure appreciate your help pal. – Robert Thomas May 7 '19 at 8:44

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