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Original sentence: 1) “Only a small percentage of immigrants arriving in the US ever returned to their native countries.”

Now, if I like to re-construct the original sentence, which [participle clause(s)] will be correct to use in this sentence, i.e.,

  1. “Only a small percentage of immigrants [who arrived/who were arriving/after they arrived] in the US ever returned to their native countries.”?

N.B. In my understanding, both the who were arriving and after they arrived are correct. However, the relative clause who arrived, formed in the past simple tense, denotes a completed action , hence the arriving cannot be as such reduced from the who arrived. I wonder if I am missing any nuance?

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  • I would say that the "-ing" form in the original example makes no representation about the order of events. The logic of the sentence does; of course the return happens after the arrival. But you could have the opposite. "Only a fraction of the planes flying for commercial airlines were built by Boeing": In this case the building happened before the flying. Perhaps a better paraphrase would alter the tense of "return": "Only a small percentage of immigrants arriving in the US would ever return to their native countries." Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 21:02
  • My question is if the arriving == who arrived in the original sentence? In my understanding, they should not be interchangeable becuase the who arrived denotes a past completed action and therefore cannot be reduced to the participle phrase, i.e. living. Am I right?
    – Airforce
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 21:56
  • How about "immigrants to the US" instead?
    – BillOnne
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 17:42

3 Answers 3

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Go with who arrived. The simple past tense is best if it makes sense. The context implies that it is a past completed action; after all, we couldn't sensibly reason about whether they "ever returned" unless they previously arrived and some time has elapsed since their arrival. Even if the writer is trying to make a point about the present, he or she is still citing evidence from the past.

If the writer is highlighting somewhat recent arrivals, who have arrived would also work--most of those who arrived are still here.

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  • The original sentence: “Only a small percentage of immigrants arriving in the US ever returned to their native countries.” In my understanding, "Only a small percentage of immigrants arriving in the US ever returned to their native countries Only a small percentage of immigrants who arrived in the US ever returned to their native countries". But, "Only a small percentage of immigrants arriving in the US ever returned to their native countries = Only a small percentage of immigrants who were arriving in the US ever returned to their native countries". -Am I right?
    – Airforce
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 17:51
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All of these forms are awkward. They might be understood correctly but would be jarring to sentence flow and understanding.

The form "immigrants arriving in the US" suggests the group that is arriving at the moment. One pictures an airport with a plane that has just pulled up to the terminal and a group of people getting off the plane.

The same applies for any form using "arriving." So "who were arriving" is just as awkard.

The reason these are awkward is because "immigrant" means somebody who has already arrived. Somebody who has not yet arrived is a prospective immigrant or a future immigrant or an intended immigrant or some such.

So emphasizing the arrival is awkward. It's like talking about eating fresh-baked bread after it is baked. Even talking about it "immediately after it is baked" is a bit suspect since "fresh-baked" includes the idea of "immediately after."

And using any of the "arrived" forms is especially awkward since precious few immigrants will leave before they arrive. Such events would be some variation on "decided not to come" or "decided not to be an immigrant" or some such.

You should omit "arrive" entirely. Some such variation as this would serve.

Only a small percentage of immigrants to the US ever returned to their native countries.

Now you might include "arrived" if it was a qualifier of some kind. For example, if you were talking about the percentage who returned who arrived in one decade compared to the next. But note that there is some implied ommission here.

Only a small percentage of immigrants who arrived in the US in the 1970s returned to their native countries. A larger, but still modest, percentage of immigrants who arrived in the the 1980s did so.

Here you could pick "who arrived," "that arrived," or "arriving" as you prefer. This is because the qualifier "arrive" is now specifying a date range and is distinct from the arrival that completes a person's becoming an immigrant.

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My way of saying it would be:

For past arrivals:

Only a small percentage of immigrants, having arrived in the US, ever returned to their native countries.

For current arrivals:

Only a small percentage of immigrants arriving in the US are returning to their native countries.

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