Here's a sentence from a textbook

Before I left home, I promised my parents that I would return.

According to the given instruction, I'm suppose to rephrase it into a participial sentence.

One of my answers, however, according to my teacher, is wrong. But she didn't explain to me why. She just told me that before wasn't suppose to be in the middle of the sentence.

Here's the wrong one:

I promised my parents before leaving home that I would return.

Could anyone explain it to me? Thank you!

  • 2
    Tell her she can put before before before in any sentence if she really wants to. – Robusto Jun 16 '17 at 4:29
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    Your answer is not "wrong." It is perfectly understandable, and would be accepted as idiomatic by most English speakers. Your teacher, who probably is not a native English speaker herself, wants you to write something like Before leaving home, I promised my parents that I would return. You should agree with her in order to get a good grade. – P. E. Dant Jun 16 '17 at 4:33
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    Your sentence is perfectly idiomatic. before leaving home can introduce the sentence, appear in the middle of the sentence before the that-clause, or end the sentence. At the end of the sentence it would be a little odd in this particular case, and ambiguous. But native speakers will put it there. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 16 '17 at 10:09
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    Indeed. Note that the OP's wording, while perfectly good, requires a slightly more artful articulation to make sure you're understood orally, due to the separation of the two verbal complements. – Luke Sawczak Jun 16 '17 at 14:48
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    @JasmineKuo You've guessed correctly :) – Luke Sawczak Jun 17 '17 at 4:56

Adverbs have free mobility within the sentence and they enjoy enough flexibility of placement of either at the front or rear or in the middle of a sentence. The same is true about adverb clauses and phrases. However, while positioning the adverbial phrases in a sentence, it is to be ensured​ that the result must be fluent, idiomatic and meaningful.

We are dealing with an adverb phrase describing WHEN. Adverb of time answers the question WHEN. Adverb phrases and clauses of time usually occupy either the beginning to emphasize the time element, or, to play safe, the end which is the neutral position of the clause. With the exception of such adverbs of time as 'now', 'then', 'once' etc. most adverbs of time may not occupy the middle position of a clause. A sentence may be understandable but that that's no guarantee that the sentence is not disfluent. So it is better to shift the participle phrase

  • before leaving home

either to the fore or rear position.


To answer simply I think the problem in the 'wrong' answer is that you broken up the clause 'I promised my parents that I would return' by inserting 'before leaving home' into the middle of it. You don't need to change the position of 'before leaving home' just change its tense, so you'll get 'Before leaving home I promised my parents that I would return.

However as the other posters have indicated, people will understand both but your teacher is telling you'll lose marks for spoiling readability of the 'main' clause.

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