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I'm studying to become a teacher. Yesterday, my students took a test. The first task was to rewrite the given sentences using a participle construction.

Right now, I'm struggling with one sentence because I've read one answer so often I no longer know which one is correct.

The given sentence was:

If T-shirts are washed at a lower temperature, they have a longer life cycle.

My question is: Which one of the two following answers is correct?

Being washed at a lower temperature, T-shirts have a longer life cycle.

or

Washed at a lower temperature, T-shirts have a longer life cycle.

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    The first one doesn't work. We can say "Being tall, he could see over the fence", where tallness is a quality possessed by the subject, but this doesn't apply to the T-shirts. Your second sentence is OK, but it's almost the same as the original. I wonder if they are looking for the present participle; Washing T-shirts at a lower temperature gives them a longer life. Feb 8, 2022 at 16:05
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    Both are possible, though the second one is more likely. Note that it can be construed either as a reason adjunct, where the washed clause gives the reason why they have a longer life, or a conditional adjunct giving the condition under which they have a longer life cycle (cf. If washed at a lower temperature, T-shirts have a longer life cycle).
    – BillJ
    Feb 8, 2022 at 16:12
  • Btw, the participial elements are clauses, unlike the if expressions, which strictly speaking are preposition phrases.
    – BillJ
    Feb 8, 2022 at 16:23
  • @BillJ "If-expressions, which strictly speaking are preposition phrases" <-- Allegedly! Feb 8, 2022 at 16:28
  • To avoid ambiguity you could substitute when for because there: When T-shirts are washed at a lower temperature, they have a longer life cycle.
    – Robusto
    Feb 8, 2022 at 16:51

1 Answer 1

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When clauses are compressed into untensed verb forms like participles and infinitives in short phrases, information is lost, which means ambiguity increases. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean you can't always tell what the words are sposta mean, especially when they're printed instead of spoken.

In the two examples given,

  1. Being washed at a lower temperature, T-shirts have a longer life cycle.
  2. Washed at a lower temperature, T-shirts have a longer life cycle.

there are different presuppositions. This is not a matter of grammar, but rather of what you mean. (1), with being washed, presupposes that all T-shirts are always washed at a lower temperature. (2), without the auxiliary being, does not, at least not necessarily, because ambiguity; rather, its initial participial phrase would normally be interpreted as a conditional (when/if they are washed), instead of a factive (since they are washed) like (1).

As to which answer would be correct, that would depend on what the actual question was. There is no automatic syntactic transformation between tensed clauses and participles, so it's lexical semantics and pragmatics that counts. Offhand, I'd say (2) was a better match than (1), but neither conveys all the information of the original.

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  • I'd say that 2. is actually more likely to be interpreted as a reason adjunct than a conditional one, saying why they have a longer life.
    – BillJ
    Feb 8, 2022 at 17:06
  • It's possible to both retain the meaning and fulfill the exercise of using a participle: If washed at a lower temperature, T-shirts have a longer life cycle. Feb 8, 2022 at 17:06
  • As I said, information is lost, and ambiguity is common. The more stuff you leave out, the less stuff your listeners have to work with. And the more work they hafta do Feb 8, 2022 at 17:08
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    It's all about careful, articulate speech or writing: supply just enough information to get your point across unambiguously. But people who go to that much trouble are rare.
    – Robusto
    Feb 8, 2022 at 20:32
  • And they're taking a chance that their audience is percipient enough to get their unambiguous point. Not always the best strategy. Feb 8, 2022 at 20:36

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