Give the task of synthesizing and transforming these two sentences:

  1. John ran after the snatch thief.
  2. John tripped over a stone and fell.

Into just one of this form:

  1. While ____________, ____________.

The provided choices were:

Answer 1:
While running after the snatch thief, John tripped over a stone and fell.

Answer 2:
While John was running after the snatch thief, he tripped over a stone and fell.

My students are often confused as to how to synthesise and transform those two sentences. My explanation is to identify the main clause. So Answer 1 is correct.

Is there a better explanation?

  • 8
    Both answers are equally correct; there is no rule of "correctness" here. Either clause can function as the main clause; it depends on what the speaker wants to stress, and where they want to put it in the sentence. Aug 30, 2020 at 16:55
  • 1
    Stylewise, I'd prefer 'as' here. Yes, the pursuit is durative, but the trip is punctive. Aug 30, 2020 at 18:21
  • 1
    //While running after the snatch thief, John tripped over a stone and fell.// Of the two, this is the correct one. This is a single-clause sentence; hence there is no question of main clause or dependent clause. "While running after the snatch thief" is a phrase; not a clause. It can make sense even without 'while', like "Running after the snatch thief, John tripped over a stone and fell."
    – Ram Pillai
    Aug 31, 2020 at 3:34
  • 2
    A great deal of damage is done to the students of a language when such subtle matters of style are forced into a multiple-choice, correct-or-incorrect format.
    – jsw29
    May 27, 2021 at 20:20
  • 2
    In (2) it's unclear who tripped.
    – DjinTonic
    Jan 23, 2022 at 0:42

2 Answers 2


From a pure English perspective, they are both correct. However, the first one will typically be considered better writing. This is because “While” is a phrase that modifies John, the noun. The second sentence is poorly constructed because the modifier is wordy relative to what is possible. In other words, it’s a poor use of a modifying clause/needlessly verbose.

  • 1
    I disagree. (2) introduces the agent earlier in the narrative. This may be the preferred choice, depending on context. And while (1) is, I agree, more stylish, this could grade into pretentiousness ... and in fact, there may be better ways of writing the contents of (1) and (2). // Yes, this doesn't stick within the constraints of the test question. But ELU usually dismisses local terminologies and artificial (especially sub-optimal) constraints. May 23, 2022 at 9:58

Looking up the terms 'synthesise' and 'transform' on various websites, I'm not sure the latter at least has an agreed definition. Some sites seem to license any correct paraphrasing.

Using a contrastive coordinator

  • John ran after the snatch thief, but he tripped over a stone and fell.

is one way to use fewer full stops.

But I'd prefer a more staccato style here. Optimal rephrasing and question constraints are, in my opinion, at odds. This happens all too often in such questions.

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