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Can "and fixed" be changed into "fixing" in the following sentence? If not, why?

John got up at 7:30 and fixed himself a cup of coffee.

John got up at 7:30, fixing himself a cup of coffee.

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I was taught that your second sentence, “*John got up at 7:30, fixing himself a cup of coffee,” is in error. This doesn’t work to describe a sequence of events.

That construction would be correct if the two actions were simultaneous, as in, “John got up slowly, yawning the whole time.” In this case, the second action describes the manner in which John is doing the first action. It would also make sense if the second action is the direct effect of the first, as in, “John made sure the coffee machine wasn’t giving him decaf, and hit the pour button, fixing himself a cup of coffee.” In this case, the previous actions describe the method by which John is doing the final action.

One of the examples I gave could be re-ordered, to, “Yawning, John got up.” This means the same thing as, “While yawning, John got up.” The other example I gave could not be, without changing the meaning: In a sentence where the gerund clause is the result of the actions in the rest of the sentence, the result must come afterward. So, “Jane sprinted at the end, winning the race,” could not have the final clause moved. It could, however, be expressed as, “Jane sprinted at the end to win the race,” “John pressed the button to fix himself a cup of coffee,” and so on.

That said, you will hear this construction in casual English, and commonly enough in writing that teachers feel the need to warn against it. And these distinctions are a little fuzzy anyway. This example sounds wrong to me mainly because it’s so obvious that John must have gotten up first, then fixed a cup of coffee.

Practical Advice

Here’s the rule of thumb I’d suggest for a non-native speaker. Try changing “doing something” to either “while doing something” or “to do something,” and see if the sentence still makes sense. If so, it’s good formal written English.

The great examples I was given in the comments fit this pattern: “The refugees left their country, heading to Germany,” still works if changed to “The refugees left their country to head to Germany,” and maybe even, “The refugees left their country while heading to Germany.” However, the similar example of a sentence many would not accept, “The refugees were forced out of their country, heading to Germany,” does not work either way. “The refugees were forced out of their country to head to Germany,” does not make sense, as being forced out was not something they did to themselves in order to get to Germany. “The refugees were forced out of their country while heading to Germany,” also makes no sense, as being forced out of their country happened before.

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  • 1
    In "John walked out of his room, slamming the door behind him," is the second action a result of the first? I can only see a temporal order, not a causal relation.
    – Apollyon
    Dec 6 '21 at 23:35
  • @Apollyon That’s a good example of a sentence I would regard as incorrect formal written English. But it’s common in less-formal English. It’s more of a sequence of events than “John crossed the threshold, carrying his new bride,” but less blatant a solecism than, “John walked out of the room, saying, ‘You can’t fire me! I quit!’ and running into his old boss again years later.”
    – Davislor
    Dec 7 '21 at 0:00
  • Some people find "Those refugees left their country, heading to Germany" OK. Do you think it's also incorrect formal English? If it's OK, does "heading to Germany" actually stand for "while they were heading to Germany"?
    – Apollyon
    Dec 7 '21 at 3:08
  • @Apollyon That sounds fine to me. The result of leaving their country is heading to Germany, and those things happen simultaneously. Really, as long as it's not obviously absurd to imagine those two actions as linked, I'm not a stickler about it.
    – Davislor
    Dec 7 '21 at 3:19
  • Curiously, some people accept the above sentence while rejecting the passive version of it: "Those refugees were driven out of their country, heading to Germany" Do you know why?
    – Apollyon
    Dec 7 '21 at 3:27
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The second version just sounds wrong to a native speaker. He wasn't fixing himself the coffee while waking.

You might want something like it in context. Perhaps

John got up at 7:30. Fixing himself a cup of coffee, he thought about the day ahead.

Here there's an implicit "while" before "fixing".

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  • Your proposal needs a comma after "coffee" to separate the two clauses.
    – Andrew Ray
    Dec 6 '21 at 16:18
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    Perhaps, "John started his day at 7:30..." Dec 6 '21 at 17:39
  • @AndrewRay Yes, the rules suggest that, though (obviously) I don't always follow the rules. I have added the comma. Dec 6 '21 at 18:18
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    @user3067860 Yes, I think that's better. I was just copying the OP's wording in the part of the sentence that wasn't in question. Dec 6 '21 at 18:19
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The first sentence is a compound sentence with two primary verbs. The second sentence is the subject, "John", modified by the present participle "fixing."

sentence #1 (sentences with compound primary verbs can always be re-written this way):
John got up at 7:30. John fixed himself a cup of coffee.

sentence #2
This is simply a present participle modifying the subject. The same structure as "Waving goodbye, John closed the door."

Modifying the subject of a clause with a present participle implies that the primary verb in the clause and the action of the present participle are concurrent (happening at exactly the same time). So, it sounds unnatural for John to be making coffee and getting-up at the same time. In sentence #1, because both verbs are in the simple past tense, it is implied that the first verb "got up" happened, and then "fixed coffee" happened in a sequence, which makes sense.

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  • How about these sentences? a. "Those refugees left their country, heading to Germany" b. "Those refugees were driven out of their country, heading to Germany"?
    – Apollyon
    Dec 6 '21 at 3:44
  • c. "Those refugees stayed in a refugee camp on April 20th, heading to Germany on May 10th."
    – Apollyon
    Dec 6 '21 at 4:10
  • @Apollyon To sound more natural and have clear meaning, adjectives should be as close as possible to the nouns that they modify. So, "Those refugees heading to Germany...." sounds better. Sometimes, adverbs can be placed a little farther away from the verbs they modify.
    – zaligo
    Dec 6 '21 at 5:13
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    If the "fixing a cup of coffee" were something he could do simultaneously with getting up it would be OK - "John got up at 7:30, tangling himself in the bedsheets, tripping over the cat and cursing the tasks he had ahead of him in the day"
    – Vicky
    Dec 6 '21 at 15:02
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    @Vicky For my own part I consider "getting up" to encompass pretty much all the tasks that are done before I can get on with my day. that starts with waking up, turning off my alarm, getting out of bed, bathroom, brush-teeth, shower, get dressed and finally fix a cup of coffee. Once all of that is done, I consider myself to be "up" and ready to face the day. "Getting up" doesn't necessarily just mean physically getting out of the bed in colloquial usage and can include fixing coffee. So the examples in Apollyon's question sound natural to me both ways. Dec 6 '21 at 16:06

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