sentence 1:

The House would initiate a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump, charging him with betraying his oath of office and the nation’s security by seeking to enlist a foreign power to tarnish a rival for his own political gain.

source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/us/politics/democrats-impeachment-trump.html

What if I change charging to be the verb in the main clause?

sentence 2:

The House would charge him with betraying his oath of office and the nation’s security by seeking to enlist a foreign power to tarnish a rival for his own political gain, initiating a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump,

2 Answers 2


By reversing the clauses, you change the order of events.

In the first version of the sentence, the following happens:

1. The House initiates an inquiry.
2. Charges are laid.

In the second version of the sentence, it's the reverse:

1. Charges are laid.
2. The House initiates an inquiry.

(Note that in the second version, the syntax results in a possible ambiguous interpretation. Does the House initiate the inquiry—this is the more reasonable interpretation—or do the charges themselves result in an automatic inquiry?)

It's possible that both things actually happen at the same time or that they are essentially indistinguishable, but quite unlikely. It's much more likely that, in reality, the inquiry has to come before the charges.

(Note that it's also possible to think there is a missing by in front of charging in the first sentence. If that's the case, then the first sentence actually does mean the same thing as the second—because the use of by would also reverse the sequence of events. However, since the sentence doesn't actually contain by, I am interpreting it literally.)

Regardless of what happens at a practical level, in terms of the syntax of the sentence, by reversing the order of the clauses you reverse the order in which the ideas are presented as occurring.

  • Thank you. In my understanding, the present participle charging him with... means the result of the main clause. And another question is that in the first sentence ``` charging him... ```, what 's the general rule for finding the subject of the present participle - who charges him? even though It's obvious that it's the house that charges him.
    – echo Lee
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 11:32
  • @echoLee Unfortunately, there is often nothing more than common sense that tells you what the referent of a subject (or a pronoun) is. It's similar in this case. You can't be guaranteed to know just by looking at the syntax. A guideline is it's the thing closest to the word. But while that works out a lot of the time, it's not always true. That applies here too. In the first sentence, inquiry is closest, but it's understood from logic and use that it's really the House that's the subject. Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 11:53

I do not know whether either sentence is constitionally correct. Impeachment is rare.

An impeachment is like an indictment; it is a list of "high crimes and misdemeanors" of which someone is formally accused or "charged" by a majority of the House of Reprentatives. So, in a constitutional sense, there does not seem to be a way that the charges in the articles of impeachment could exist until they are passed by the House. Now the rules of the House may define "charge" differently to mean what the Judiciary Committee is to investigate and possibly to recommend to the House for inclusion in articles of impeachment. But even that does not make much sense because how could anyone know what an inquiry may turn up. Of course thinking about this legally is silly because impeachment is a political act that, at least constitutionally, does not require any particular process of inquiry, define what are impeachable offenses, or specify what qualifies as evidence.

The sentence about charging leading to an inquiry makes less sense. That sounds like verdict first, trial second. Accusations may lead to an inquiry, which may in turn lead to charges.

Ultimately whether either sentence is technically correct depends on definitions in the official rules of the House of Representatives.

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