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Opening the file, he called John.

What does the above sentence (especially the participle clause) mean?

As I understand it, this sentence has three meanings.

  1. While (he was) opening the file, he called John.
  2. After (he was) opening the file, he called John.
  3. Because (he was) opening the file, he called John.

Is this right? And: are there more meanings than I mentioned?

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    Version #1 is what it means. -- Though, I've been finding out that there are numerous grammar books out there, which supposedly teach English to students, that are saying some weird incorrect stuff on examples like yours.
    – F.E.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 17:19
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    You can also use "when" instead of "while" for Number 1. If you want a correct Number 2, do not use he was. Say: After opening the file, he called John. You can say Because he was opening the file, he called John, but it would not mean the same as #1 and it would require he was.
    – user6951
    Nov 4, 2014 at 18:09
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    Dinusha, I have also read so in British Oxford grammar books. I think American native speakers have some objections. I would request British native speakers like FumbleFingers, Tunny to throw light on this matter. StoneyB has already written in reply to a question asked before.
    – Khan
    Nov 4, 2014 at 18:41

1 Answer 1

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  1. This is what the sentence in block quotes means. You also could use "As he was opening," here and get much the same sense. "As opening" would not be correct, you would need "As he was opening," in this case.

Neither 2 nor 3 is what the sentence in blockquotes means, but they are not necessarily ungrammatical or nonsensical.

  1. "After opening the file, he called John." This means that he waited until he had finished opening the file, then he called John. If you wish to include "he" you would need to change the verb tense a bit: "After he opened the file, he called John."

  2. This is a strange sentence, but it could make sense if opening the file created a reason to call John. With a few more adjectives, here is a version of that sentence that is clearer. "Because he was opening a badly damaged file, he called John, the museum's document preservation specialist."

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  • Doesn't the sentence 'Opening the file, he called John' mean 'John opened the file and called David'?
    – Dinusha
    Nov 6, 2014 at 9:07
  • @Dinusha This isn't the best sentence to illustrate these verb tenses, since the action of opening a file doesn't normally take a long time, but in my reading of it, the two events occur at the same time. A clearer pair of examples: 1. "Walking down the street, he blew a bubble." 2. "After walking down the street, he blew a bubble." In the first, walking and blowing a bubble occurred at the same time, in the second he walked first, then blew a bubble second. Nov 6, 2014 at 13:03

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