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When reading a book, he heard a strange sound coming from outside.

By reading a book, he heard a strange sound coming from outside.

I would like to ask whether these two sentences are grammatically OK and have the same meaning. In the case of the first one I am not sure whether the conjunction can be used together with the gerund.

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  • Grammatically correct, yes. But the second verb is wrong: hear, heard, heard. NOT: heared. By + verb + ing=OK, When + verb + ing=OK.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 17:45
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    They are both grammatically okay, but the second strikes me as odd since I can't see how the act of reading a book can cause one to hear a strange sound from outside
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 17:54
  • It does not matter if it is strange. It is grammatically correct. The person could be psychotic, for instance...
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 21:20
  • Of course it matters! The OP asked if the meanings were the same, but the apparently infelicitous adjunct makes it difficult to tell.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 7:22

2 Answers 2

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"By" + gerund is never temporal, always instrumental.

By reading a book I discovered how economics works.

"By reading a book, he heard a strange noise coming from outside" means that reading a book was the method he used to hear the noise.

"When" + gerund is temporal, so it fits here; but it tends to treat the event as an indivisible unit. If you are talking about something which happened during the event, "while" is more common:

While reading a book, he heard a strange noise coming from outside">

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  • The sentences are both grammatical. That doesn't make them make semantic sense. But then, that was not the question.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 21:21
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i. When reading a book, he heard a strange sound coming from the outside.

ii. By reading a book, he heard a strange sound coming from the outside.

i is unusual and ii might be ungrammatical.

i rather implies the implausible

i'. Whenever he read a book, he always heard a strange sound.

The following would be more plausible and more "grammatical":

iii. While reading a book, he heard a strange sound.

iii'. Whilst reading a book, he heard a strange sound.

Both iii and iii' (British usage) imply a one-time event.

With reference to ii, by marks an instrumental, agentive, or locative semantic relation:

iv. He opened the bottle by hitting it with a hammer. (instrumental, causative, manner)

v. He put the bottle by the window. (location)

vi. The sound was caused by the book. (agentive, a "passive sentence")

vi seems closest in possible meaning to ii, but it is hard to imagine how the book could cause his hearing so, I'm afraid we can only regard ii as ungrammatical.

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