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I came across the following sentence in the book - ORIGIN - written by Dan Brown

Since 1893, hundreds of spiritual leaders from nearly thirty world religions had gathered in a different location every few years to spend a week engaged in interfaith dialogue.

Is the use of engaged there correct? Or should it be replaced by engaging?

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    Either is possible. – Colin Fine Jan 24 '18 at 15:31
  • @ColinFine Which is more common in such sentences? – Man_From_India Jan 24 '18 at 15:44
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    I'd tend to favour 'engaged' as the whole sentence is given a past tense ('since 1893', 'had gathered'). But I can see a very good argument for using 'engaging' as well. Consider, if you were one of the 'spiritual leaders' and asked what you (as a group) had done during the gathering you could answer either way. 'We engaged in interfaith dialogue.' or with the addition of 'were' :'We were engaging in interfaith dialogue. The first sentence is less wordy and sounds slightly less awkward to me. – charmer Jan 24 '18 at 16:47
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    @Man_From_India I would instead say that "more common" doesn't matter. Both work, so it's more which sounds better for the context, and the individual style of writing. – Andrew Jan 24 '18 at 17:29
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There is a subtle difference between "They were engaged" in something and "They were engaging" in something. The first suggests a condition while the second suggests an action. In the context of your question, the meaning is much the same, but in a different context you would use these differently.

The talks have been going on for hours, so please don't interrupt them while they are engaged (deeply involved) in these delicate negotiations.

It's still at a preliminary stage, but the fact the two sides are engaging (starting to be involved) in negotiations is encouraging.

Again, it's a subtle difference that in many cases is moot with a verb like "engage". With other verbs like "to park" there is a big difference in meaning:

They spent an hour parked by the side of the road.

They spent an hour parking by the side of the road.

To be parked means to have the car fully stopped, while to be parking means you're trying to find a place (or a way) to park. So with the first, you're saying that they were stopped in the car for an hour, and the second, that they were looking for parking for an hour.

Please note that the second is not an idiomatic use of "parking". A native speaker would more likely say:

They spent an hour trying to park by the side of the road.

Unfortunately it also seems difficult to extrapolate this to any general case. It varies from verb to verb. For example:

They spent a week stranded in the mountains

but not stranding.

They spent a week skiing in the mountains

but not skied.

In other cases a phrasal verb is required for one form, but not the other:

He spent a week thinking how to solve the problem.

He spend a week in thought over how to solve the problem.

Maybe over at ELU they can explain the pattern, because I can't see any.

  • Andrew, that is obvious, I think. It depends on the verb that is taking -ing or -ed. Moreover, I think your sentence - They spent a hour parked by the side of the road - seems not very correct, if at all, it is marginally correct. – Man_From_India Jan 25 '18 at 16:55
  • @Man_From_India "They spent an hour parked by/at the side of the road" is perfectly fine. What do you think is wrong with it? – Andrew Jan 25 '18 at 17:16
  • @Man_From_India Another example is convinced/convincing. They spent an hour convinced they were going to jail. vs. They spent an hour convincing the judge to let them go. If this structure depends entirely on individual verbs, and the only way to learn is memorization, then your extensive answer above has very limited utility. – Andrew Jan 25 '18 at 17:19
  • Andrew, syntatically there is no problem. But semantically, it seems to me like this they are parked for an hour by the side of the road. – Man_From_India Jan 25 '18 at 17:20
  • @Man_From_India It's fine to say, They parked (or had parked) for an hour by the side of the road, as a past-tense action, or, They were parked for an hour by the side of the road as a past-tense condition. One is the verb, the other is the past participle. – Andrew Jan 25 '18 at 17:36
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Happy new year, guys and girls out here. Hope you all are doing well.

I took a break from my office. Last year I put up a lot of work, and my boss was finally kind enough to grant me a leave for one week. It’s a bright chilly January here, and my dad had gifted me a copy of Robert Langdon’s latest adventure book, ORIGIN. What better way to spend holidays than reading Dan Brown who took his readers to the mysterious land of Spain this time?

It is in this book that I came across this sentence -

Since 1893, hundreds of spiritual leaders from nearly thirty world religions had gathered in a different location every few years to spend a week engaged in interfaith dialogue.

My first reaction was: there must have been some editing error and that ”engaged” should be replaced by ”engaging”.

Then followed lots of reading, research and talking. And finally I came to this conclusion:

BOTH “ENGAGED” and “ENGAGING” ARE CORRECT.

Let’s simplify the sentence for the sake of explanation:

They spent a week engaged/engaging in interfaith dialogue.

WHY “ENGAGED” IS CORRECT?

They spent a week engaged in interfaith dialogue.

SEMANTIC:

They spent a week and during the week they were engaged in interfaith dialogue.

GRAMMAR:

That “engaged” in the quoted sentence is a Participial Adjective, formed from the Past Participle form of verb. And ”engaged in interfaith dialogue” is an Adjective Phrase (AdjP).

Functionally that AdjP can be interpreted in two ways:

i) It can be an optional Depicitive Predicative Complement (PC)
ii) It can be a Predicative Adjunct

[Reference: Cambridge Grammar of english Language – Page No. 529 and 261]

Consider the following sentences -

  1. He died young.
  2. He was buried alive.
  3. He was burnt alive.

In each of the sentences above, young and alive are adjectives and they are optional. They can be regarded as either a Predicative Adjunct or a Depictive Predicative Complement.

All adjectives that can function as predicative adjunct can also unction as predicative complement.

In our sentence -

They spent a week engaged in interfaith dialogue.

The AdjP - engaged in interfaith dialogue - can be considered as a second complement of the predicator - spend, in which case it is an optional Depictive Predicative Complement related to the predicand - they. That adjP can also be considered as a Predicative Adjunct.

WHY “ENGAGING” IS CORRECT?

They spent a week engaging in interfaith dialogue.

SEMANTIC:

They spent a week and during the week they were engaged in interfaith dialogue.

GRAMMAR:

Here engaging in interfaith dialogue is a Gerund-Participle clause, that functions as a manner adjunct in the quoted sentence.

  • Unfortunately it seems you can't extrapolate this to any general case. It still seems to vary from verb to verb. For example, They spend a week stranded in the mountains (but not stranding). Or They spent a week skiing in the mountains (but not skied). In other cases the form used changes the meaning, They spent an hour parked/parking by the side of the road. – Andrew Jan 24 '18 at 17:27
  • @Andrew hmmm I never had thought about it. I am unable to differentiate the meaning difference in your last sentence, can you please tell me. And about "stranded", I don't know why, but "stranding" also seems right to me. And no idea about"skiing" :-) but can't rely much on my intuition. I'm not a native speaker. – Man_From_India Jan 24 '18 at 17:34
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    There is a subtle difference between "They were engaged" in something and "They were engaging" in something. The first suggests a condition while the second suggests an action. In the context of your question, the meaning is much the same, but with parked/parking it's very different. To be parked means to have the car fully stopped, while to be parking means you're trying to find a place (or a way) to park. So with the first they were stopped in the car for an hour, and the second, they were looking for parking for an hour. – Andrew Jan 24 '18 at 19:38
  • I should probably write all this up as a separate answer :) – Andrew Jan 24 '18 at 19:38

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