Approaching Paris, the city's beautiful architecture came into focus

Finally, as I approached Paris, the city's beautiful architecture came into focus

I cannot differenciate between these statements. According to the answer key, 2nd statement is correct.

  • 2
    It's nothing to do with the word Finally. It's just that the first sentence is "invalid", because it's got a dangling participle. The subject of the verb to approach isn't the city, but syntactically that's where the subject should be. But most native speakers either wouldn't know about this, or they wouldn't care in natural conversational contexts. It's just petty grammar rules that make little difference in normal speech. – FumbleFingers Oct 18 '16 at 16:52
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    Approaching Paris, I saw the city's beautiful architecture come into focus, if you need to get marks in an exam. But don't bother about in in everyday use of English. – FumbleFingers Oct 18 '16 at 16:56
  • Oh! I understand it now. Participles are the words that act like an adjective! Hence, this was a case of dangling participle. Thanks – Parth Maske Oct 18 '16 at 16:58
  • I haven't looked, but I'm sure there will be earlier questions about dangling participles. I must say it feels a bit misleading to present those two examples as "alternatives", because it gives the impression they mean the same. Obviously they don't, since the first speaker may have had no (exasperated?) sense of "finally" arriving, and he may have been thinking in terms of we (him and his wife, friends, whatever). And whether the test setters like it or not, native speakers routinely use forms like the first, so you're not learning how real people speak. Just "grammar". – FumbleFingers Oct 18 '16 at 17:22
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    Approaching Paris, I saw [something] is "correct" because the noun I immediately following a participial initial clause is a valid subject for the verb forming the participle. If you put anything else there that isn't the subject of that verb, you've left the participle "dangling", with no valid referent. Which grammarians consider to be something worth knowing you're not supposed to do, even though practically everyone does it at least sometimes. – FumbleFingers Oct 18 '16 at 17:33

Approaching Paris, the city's beautiful architecture came into focus

As FumbleFingers mentions in his comment, the first sentence is not grammatically "correct" because of the dangling participle. "Approaching Paris", does not modify "the city" but rather the unsaid subject "I", which (for some reason) is missing from the sentence.

Dangling participles are not unusual in colloquial writing where the subject can be omitted, if it's obvious, or to create a certain rhythm to the words. Creative writing has a broad license to break the usual rules. However, it's not good practice to use them in more formal writing, since they can be confusing and they can make your writing feel unfinished.

Again, as previously mentioned, if you need to get the answer correct on an exam you would rewrite it as:

Approaching Paris, I saw the city's beautiful architecture come into focus.

The second sentence is grammatically correct, but it's a different structure from the first sentence. The initial "finally" is an adverb that modifies "approached" but otherwise does not affect anything else in the sentence. and can be omitted without changing the essential information:

As I approached Paris, the city's beautiful architecture came into focus.

Which isn't to say it's not significant. "Finally" does add context by suggesting a long and/or difficult trip to Paris, and in a single word implies there is more to the story, although it might not be important at the moment.

To answer your question in your most recent comment: "Approaching Paris" is a participle phrase that modifies the subject "I". It describes what I was doing at that moment, but by itself it's an incomplete sentence. Other examples (from the above linked page):

Floating in the pool, I marveled at the clouds.

Biting his victim, the vampire felt a momentary thrill.

Beating you over the head with examples, I hope to make you understand participial phrases.

  • 1
    Bear in mind that the unstated subject in the "incorrect" version could be we. And even that could have a range of meanings, especially with present tense comes into focus (which might be a "running commentary" style, where we actually includes the audience rather than just other people the speaker was with). Or even they, he, she, you, I suppose. – FumbleFingers Oct 18 '16 at 17:39

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