Consider the following sentence:

She got up to get some of the coffee he had made, stopping to refill his cup when she did.

What does the subordinate clause in this sentence mean? Does it mean when "she" has got coffee, she stops getting coffee and starts to refill "his" cup or some other meaning? But my interpretation seems a bit strange.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU. I thought this question would be General Reference, but in fact of six dictionaries I checked only one offered a sense of "stop" which was clearly applicable. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 21 '12 at 14:39

Stop here is used intransitively in a sense with which you may not be familiar. It is defined thus in Macmillan Dictionary, intransitive sense 3.c.

to pause while you are moving or doing something so that you can do something else
  He stopped and listened before opening the door.
  Did you ever stop to think what might happen?
  stop to do something: I stopped to get a drink of water.
  stop for: I stopped at the store for some cheese.

The operative sense here is that instanced at stop to do something.

That said, this is an awkward sentence.

  • There are two gets in different senses: got up, to get coffee
  • There are two infinitive phrases of purpose: to get ..., to refill ...
  • It’s not clear what it is she stops: getting up will hardly do, so it has to be getting coffee , but that’s not something she is actually described as doing, only what she intends to do
  • And stop isn’t a very happy use: does she really stop getting coffee to refill his cup, or does she also refill his cup while she’s at it?

I'd do it more like this:

She stood and poured herself a cup of the coffee he had made, refilling his cup as she did so.

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Yes, it's clumsy. 'Get up' is not a continuous action, hence the continuous tense is not used. So, 'she' can hardly 'stop to refill his cup' in the middle of getting up. I'd suggest:

She got up and went to get some of the coffee he had made, and refilled his cup at the same time.

If the interruption is deemed to need emphasis:

She got up and went to get some of the coffee he had made. Realising he had finished his cup, she poured him a refill first.

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  • 1
    I jus' gotta say that these descriptions of 2 or 3 things you guys know about her are significantly non-scintillating: nowhere near Oscar Wilde at his best in An Ideal Husband, for example. Here's my rewrite: She stood herself up to refill her cup of coffee he'd happened to brew, but stopped on the way and so made his day as she gave him another one too. – user21497 Nov 21 '12 at 15:17
  • @BillFranke O, well, if we're doing LitCrit, Reading Gaol would be a more appropriate allusion; and you should really revise that last line to remove him from arsis to thesis. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 21 '12 at 18:35
  • @StoneyB: Just a little tweak for the benefit of Edwin Ashworth. He complained about my rewrite of a sentence for a physicochemistry paper a couple of days go. The sentence is actually a not too felicitous pair of triplets: aab, ccb. It's even longer than the three serious ones you guys wrote. – user21497 Nov 21 '12 at 21:51
  • I've never read Reading Gaol, but at least An Ideal Husband is funny. Reading Gaol is rather morose and jerks a bit like a steam-engine-era driven train at start-up when we get to "so wistfully at the day". But I'm not a serious literary critic, only at the amateur enthusiast level, not even close to considering myself more than opinionated. – user21497 Nov 21 '12 at 22:13
  • @BillFranke What you actually have is two couplets in ballad metre with internal rhyme. "The cock doth craw, the day doth daw, the channerin worm doth chide / Gin we be mist out o' our place, a sair pain we maun bide." - The Wife of Usher's Well – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 21 '12 at 22:49

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