1. He lay staring into the sky.
  2. He came running towards me.
  3. He arrived finding nobody there.

I have read this by John Lawler but am struggling to put these into one of the five categories he mentioned.

They appear to be closest to adverbial clauses but have several issues including:

  • Cannot add have to the start of them.
  • Cannot be introduced by subordinating conjunctions.
  • Cannot be moved around, at least not without sounding strange.

It seems this is because there is a certain temporal element to these participial clauses where one action has to happen first before the other; this is epitomized by the last example.

In fact, I'm not even sure if the third example is in the same category as the first two, because it can be re-written as:

3*) He arrived to find nobody there. (which is an adverbial Infinitive Phrase, right?)

So what category(s) do these examples belong to?

  • Where do you get the idea that adverb clauses all have those characteristics? There are a LOT of different adverb clause types, and each of them has different characteristics. Jul 1, 2020 at 2:11
  • @JohnLawler Well with regards to present participle adverbial clauses, I got those ideas from your post that I linked, as well as your comments from this post quote: "That's pretty clearly an adverbial; it can be moved around -- Wearing a t-shirt I went to work. -- Adjectives can't move around, and adverbs can."
    – Joe
    Jul 1, 2020 at 12:00
  • @JohnLawler So which category do these participial phrases in my examples fall into (I'd be guessing the fourth)? Or are they none of those (perhaps serial verb constructions of two or more verbs in sequence?)
    – Joe
    Jul 1, 2020 at 12:08
  • That is not a complete list, nor was it intended to be. If you want a complete list, consult the literature, not the net. And you'll have to learn quite a bit of syntactic theory, too, to cope with the terminology that gets tossed around. We're a long long way from saying that this is a number 3 adverb. Jul 1, 2020 at 15:10
  • @JohnLawler I see. So are these examples serial verb constructions, or if not, what should we view them as? Hoping for an actual answer.
    – Joe
    Jul 1, 2020 at 17:04

1 Answer 1


They are all adjuncts ('adverbials' in traditional grammar) in clause structure - the first two are depictive giving descriptive information, and the last one resultative expressing a subsequent situation (CaGEL p1224).

In the first two the situations are simultaneous and could be paraphrased crudely as:

He was lying on the ground and staring into the sky at the same time.

He was coming toward me and running at the same time.

In the last one the gerund-participial (-ing clause) expresses a situation subsequent to and dependent on that of the main clause, and could be paraphrased as:

When he arrived, he found no one there.

  • Corrected, thank you!
    – DW256
    Jul 1, 2020 at 1:59

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