I heard a native speaker say this sentence

I use my phone to keep in touch with my friends asking them about homework.

I wonder why he said ‘asking’ instead of ‘to ask’. Is it a gerund?

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    The text starting with asking is an optional adverbial clause. Syntactically, no different to during lockdown, through Whatsapp, or using the free talk-time minutes on my phone contract (all clauses giving further information about exactly how the "keeping in touch" was done). It's got nothing to do with gerunds though - it's a continuous participle used adverbially. Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 15:45

1 Answer 1


This line was spoken, so you of course couldn't hear punctuation. Written out, the best punctuated sentence without ambiguity is

I use my phone to keep in touch with my friends, asking them about homework.

Here "asking them about homework" is participial phrase and an adverbial modifying the previous action mentioned in the sentence. The subject of this participial phrase is "I". And the participial phrase supplements the main clause with more information. You can roughly understand the sentence as "I use my phone to keep in touch with my friends and ask them about homework."

You could use an infinitive instead, but it changes the meaning ever so slightly, because "to ask" here omits "in order". "I use my phone to keep in touch with my friends in order to ask them about homework." You see the little difference in meaning?

Grammar note
I lead with a point about punctuation but haven't gone into detail. Syntactically a participial phrase like this could modify an immediately-preceding NP or a different one. In this context there is only one parsing, but in other sentences there could be ambiguity. See FumbleFingers' comments for more details.

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    I agree you pretty much need the pause / comma with OP's exact text, but it's at the very least optional in the 3 alternative adverbial phrases of my earlier comment. And I have to say that when I consider, for example, I need my phone to keep in touch with my friends using Whatsapp, both potential parsings seem perfectly credible to me if there's no comma / pause. But as soon as we introduce that "break, gap", the adverbial element can only be interpreted as referring back to me keeping in touch, not immediately-preceding my friends. Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 15:59

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