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the first time I noticed this phenomenon was a few years ago, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – a crowd of people standing around Michelangelo’s Pietà, taking photos with their cameras and cell phones.

Source: American English File 2

Why did the author used "standing" instead of "were standing"?

Thank you.

2 Answers 2

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That noun phrase which contains two non-finite participle clauses

a crowd of people standing around Michelangelo’s Pietà, taking photos with their cameras and cell phones.

is tacked onto the end of the main finite clause (with the tensed verb noticed) and is apposite this phenomenon. The noun-phrase is an elaboration of this phenomenon.

If the author had said was standing and was taking or were standing and were taking we would have more than one finite clause. A semicolon separating the finite clauses would be needed, or they could be separate sentences.

Compare:

The first goal I ever saw him score was in 2012 — a rocket into the top right corner.

The first goal I ever saw him score was in 2012; it was a rocket into the top right corner.

In the first we simply have a noun-phrase, a rocket into the top right corner. There is no tensed verb. It is not a clause.

In the second we have two independent finite clauses.

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  • Thank you so much. Your explanation was what I really wanted to know. I really appreciate it. Great help.
    – sami
    Jun 1, 2018 at 16:56
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Because the writer has used "crowd" as a collective noun, he is going on to state what that crowd is a collection of - and it is a collection of people standing around! Even though the crowd and the people are technically the same thing, the purpose of the second part of the sentence is to describe what is collected in the crowd, not what the individual people were doing.

You would only need to use were if, for example, you wrote:

People were standing around in a crowd.

Or if you just used the word "crowd" alone you would use "was", as the collective noun is singular:

A crowd was standing around.


EDIT:

Your comment said:

  • Thanks so much for your reply. But, I didn't understand your explanations. I think because of the verb "notice" the author used the -ing form of the verb. We have "Notice something/somebody doing something". I mean the author noticed the phenomenon. So, what was the phenomenon? He noticed a crowd of people standing around

It doesn't matter that the writer is describing what he "noticed" (past tense) - you could equally say "I can see a crowd of people standing around". If you try to change the tense of the verb "standing" then you change the meaning of what he saw!

For example:

I saw him sit

This means you saw a person move from the standing position into the sitting position.

But:

I saw him sitting

This means you saw a person in the seated position - you didn't necessarily see the action of him taking that seat!

So when describing what you saw (or noticed as in this case) any verb that describes what went on should be in the correct tense as you saw it.

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  • And technically you could use 'were standing' in the OP. The meaning would be the same and it would sound natural.
    – EllieK
    Jun 1, 2018 at 12:20
  • Thanks so much for your reply. But, I didn't understand your explanations. I think because of the verb "notice" the author used the -ing form of the verb. We have "Notice something/somebody doing something". I mean the author noticed the phenomenon. So, what was the phenomenon? He noticed a crowd of people standing around...
    – sami
    Jun 1, 2018 at 13:11
  • Thanks you so much for your informative information provided.
    – sami
    Jun 1, 2018 at 16:57

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