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  1. In entering the room, she saw him.
  2. On entering the room, she saw him.
  3. As she entered the room, she saw him.
  4. When she entered the room, she saw him.

What are the differences between these sentences? They all refer to something that happens at the same time as something else, but does one make the second action (she saw him) evoke more quickness than another? does one of the examples make the two actions sound more consequential rather than simultaneous?

Regarding in TheFreeDictionary says:

3.b. During the act or process of:

tripped in racing for the bus.

(So, that means that it was on entering the room that she saw him, not when she was doing something else.)

but Collins says:

You use on when mentioning an event that was followed by another one.

She waited in her hotel to welcome her children on their arrival from London. On reaching Dubai, the evacuees are taken straight to Dubai international airport.

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    There really is no difference, except that "in entering the room" is not idiomatic. I'm not sure I like "tripped in racing for the bus" either -- although it might be short for "in the process of". – Andrew Jul 13 '18 at 19:17
  • When you say it's not idiomatic, do you mean the specific example or the use of "in" in general to mean "while"? – Fra Jul 13 '18 at 19:35
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    "In" doesn't mean "while", except perhaps as short for "in the process of doing ..." It may be acceptable in other dialects, so I'm not going to say it's 100% wrong, but I wouldn't use it. – Andrew Jul 13 '18 at 20:43
  • This use of "in" sounded strange to me too, but today I found it twice in the first 12 pages of Verne's "Journey at the center of the earth" (one in chapter 3, "But in looking at it very closely he thought he could distinguish some half-effaced letters") and then found it in the dictionaries too, as I reported in the examples. Probably it's an old/rare usage. – Fra Jul 13 '18 at 21:04
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    Anyway the point is that it depends on when the translation was written. If back when the novel first came out in 1864, then it may contain many outdated English expressions that sound strange today. They're not wrong, but if you use them you might sound like someone who lived in the mid-1800s. – Andrew Jul 13 '18 at 21:21
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When she entered the room, she saw him.

Perfect

As she entered the room, she saw him.

Great

On entering the room, she saw him.

"Upon" instead of "On" would sound exactly right, although a bit old-fashioned. The use of just plain "On" is somehow quick, abbreviated, or forced, like a newspaper headline. (just my opinion)

In entering the room, she saw him.

As commenters have noted, that does not sound idiomatic. However it may depend on context. Analyzing the other example "But in looking at it very closely he thought he could distinguish some half-effaced letters", the word "in" acts as a small, unobtrusive filler word which doesn't draw your attention. It's "under the radar", so to speak, and does not seem incorrect. Perhaps "in looking" is an abbreviation/ellipsis for "in the process of looking".


Next, to answer the question of whether these phrases differ in terms of the actions being simultaneous, or sequential, or if one is quicker than the other.

"As she entered" and "In the process of entering" both refer to the time she is literally crossing the threshold of the door. It's quite instantaneous and simultaneous.

"Upon entering" and "When she entered" may possibly refer to either crossing the threshold, or else the moment after she has entered the room, which is therefore a split second later. That's a very nuanced difference though, for all practical purposes they are the same.

  • Thanks for the further clarification. However, the main question was about the differences between the examples. They all refer to something that happens at the same time as something else, but does one make the second action (she saw him) evoke more quickness than another? or does one of the examples make the two actions more consequential rather than simultaneous? (I'm going to add this to the question now) – Fra Jul 14 '18 at 19:22

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