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I am looking at the following sentence:

Aided by a strong magnetic field, the machine is expected to capture particles of higher momentum.

I learnt from here that the participial phrase implies a cause-effect relationship and/or a before-and-after sequential relationship. Thus I think the main clause should be the machine captured instead of is expected to, because the machine is only able to capture high momentum particles (already happened, effect) only with the aid of a strong magnetic field(cause). As far as I observed that all the examples given are in such a pattern: a cause happened, effect took place. Examples. The original sentence used "is expected", means that the effect hasn't take place yet, right?

Without altering the main clause, I changed the sentence to:

With the aid of a strong magnetic field, the machine is expected to...

which has turned the phrase into a prepositional phrase.

I wonder will it be possible to retain the participial nature of the phrase without changing the verb in the main clause? For example, is

"Having installed a strong magnetic field/ Using a strong magnetic field, the machine is expected to..."

grammatically and logically correct?

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  • I learnt that the participial phrase implies a cause-effect relationship - I don't think that this is correct. For example, in "Accompanied by her sister, she walked down the street", does the participial phrase imply that her sister's accompaniment caused her to walk down the street?
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 17:42
  • @stangdon thank you for your reply. It's my mistake that I forgot to mention that I read from here that the use of the participial phrase requires "two actions to be in a cause-and-effect relationship or a before-and-after sequential relationship." I will edit my question.
    – cZe99
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 20:34
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    I don't think the expanded version is correct either. Consider "Walking down the street, Cedric thought about ice cream." There is neither a cause-and-effect relationship there, nor a before-and-after one. The participle phrase explains something about the main clause, but there are many possible ways it could do that.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 20:46
  • @stangdon I see your point now. I'm afraid that my understanding of the participial phrase is fundamentally flawed. It makes sense to think of it as something that explains the main clause. However, do we require that the main clause always be in the past tense? I found from the examples that the verb in the main clause is in the past tense. That's why I have a wrong perception that the "cause-and-effect" should all have already happened or, just stopped happening.
    – cZe99
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 21:00
  • That's a good observation! I think the examples are usually in the past tense because that's the tense we usually use for telling stories. But you can certainly participial phrases with other tenses. Helped by Robin, Batman fights crime (present tense, because it describes a general fact) Standing before the capitol, the new president will be sworn in (prediction about the future)
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 14:29

1 Answer 1

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I'm a little confused by the suggestion of "the machine captured" vs "is expected to"; that changes to past tense and significantly changes the meaning of the sentence. And as stangdon notes, a participial phrase doesn't have to imply cause and effect. But you're right that it can, and changing the phrasing can significantly change the implication. Consider:

  • Helped by Robin, Batman fights crime. This means that Batman fights, and Robin "helps." There's no implication that Batman couldn't do just fine on his own.
  • With Robin's help, Batman fights crime. This time Robin's helping becomes part of Batman's fighting. If we said "With Robin's help Batman can fight crime," it's even clearer that Batman depends on Robin.
  • Using the Batarang, Batman caught the criminal. This time the Batarang is the means by which Batman fights crime.

So the original example sentence...

Aided by a strong magnetic field, the machine is expected to capture particles of higher momentum.

... simply says that the magnetic field helps the machine in its goal; it doesn't make a strong implication that the magnetism is directly responsible for capturing particles. "With the aid of a strong magnetic field" would make that strong implication. "Using a strong magnetic field" would imply not only cause and effect but means. And "Having installed a strong magnetic field, the machine is expected to" makes much less of a strong implication of cause and effect, and instead talks about sequence of events.

So yes, minute changes in phrasing have big consequences for implication, and it's not as simple as using participles or not.

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